Who's in and who's out at 'lunch of the century'

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The Independent Online

The hype, inevitably, has been overwhelming. It is, we are told, one of the most spectacular, glittering and select social occasions of all time. The great and the good of Britain will be sitting down today to celebrate the millennium and each other.

The hype, inevitably, has been overwhelming. It is, we are told, one of the most spectacular, glittering and select social occasions of all time. The great and the good of Britain will be sitting down today to celebrate the millennium and each other.

The lunch, attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and hosted by the Lord Mayor of London, Lord Levene, is meant to be all about British achievement. There is a nod towards the "unsung heroes" of this country, a smattering of whom will be among the other more famous guests. But it can be argued that, in reality, this is very much about the British establishment patting each other in the back.

Just over 300 people will be at Mansion House, distilled from 1,766 original nominations, raising questions not just about the ones left out but those selected. Take, for example, the political list - Sir Edward Heath, John Major and Baroness Thatcher; the Lords Owen and Steel, and the Lords Howe and Healey.

How would the conversation flow among these over the claret and roast beef? Would Sir Edward ruminate over how he was treacherously deposed as Tory leader, as he sees it, by Thatcher and her supporters? Would John Major repeat his assertion in a recent television documentary of how the Baroness tried to destablise his premiership with behaviour which was " totally unacceptable".

Lord Howe may want to join in with his famous and bitter resignation speech from Mrs Thatcher's government. Has time mellowed Lord Healey's view that being attacked by Lord Howe was akin to " being savaged by a dead sheep" ?

The left may well feel they suffer a certain lack of representation. There were no invitations for Michael Foot, Tony Benn or Ken Livingstone. This feeling of unwantedness could extend further if one considers that compared to 37 from industry, commerce and banking, there is just one trade unionist on the list, Lord Chapple, the former general secretary of the EETPU.

Women too, may feel somewhat under-represented in some of the professional lists, with just two among the business and industry figures, and none at all among the 26 scientists. There is no place, for example, for Anne McClaren, one of the foremost embryologists in the country. Also sharing this lack of invitation are two who have done much to popularise science, Stephen Hawking, or Francis Crick, who had played a major role in the advancement on DNA technology.

Women are better represented in the performing arts and the media section, but this list is hardly in tune with the young of Britain. There is Dame Vera Lynn, but none of the Spice Girls, Shirley Bassey but no Liam Gallagher.

And one group in this section simply do not get a look in. They may shape the way we live now, Tony Blair and William Hague may struggle with each other to win their approbation, but there are absolutely no places for the editors of the mass market tabloids. No Paul Dacre of the Mail, no David Yelland of The Sun or Piers Morgan of the Mirror - instead the newspapers will be represented by John Keegan, military historian and defence correspondent of The Daily Telegraph.

The final list for today was chosen by a selection committee of Lord Levene, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, former Lord Mayor Sir Alexander Graham, John Holroyd, appointments secretary at Downing Street, former foreign secretary Lord Hurd, Dame Sheila Master, director of the Bank of England, and Olympic athlete Tessa Sanderson. They had whittled it down from the 1,766 nominations submitted by a variety of organisations around the country.

Lord Levene talked of a " great opportunity to hold a lunch for the people who have contributed the most this century to this country - those who are still around, that is."Others would say the list tells us more is that the establishment is very much still around, how it sees itself and the rest of the country.

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