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

THE HYPE, inevitably, has been overwhelming. We are told it is 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 for Britain's greatest achievers this century will be attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and hosted by the Lord Mayor of London, Lord Levene of Portsoken.

It 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 on 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, Steel of Aikwood, Howe of Aberavon and Healey are invited. There were no invitations for Michael Foot, Tony Benn or Ken Livingstone.

There were 37 invitations to people from industry, commerce and banking, but there is just one trade unionist on the list, Lord Chapple, the former general secretary of the EETPU.

There are just two women among business and industry figures, and none among the 26 scientists. There is no place, for example, for Anne McClaren, one of the foremost embryologists in the country.

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 and Shirley Bassey but no Spice Girls or Liam Gallagher.

And one group does 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 no places for the editors of the mass market tabloids. No Paul Dacre of the Daily 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 list was chosen by a committee of Lord Levene; the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres; the former Lord Mayor, Sir Alexander Graham; the appointments secretary at Downing Street, John Holroyd; the former foreign secretary Lord Hurd of Westwell; the Bank of England director Dame Sheila Masters; and the Olympic athlete Tessa Sanderson. 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 what the list tells us more is that the Establishment is very much around and how it sees itself and the rest of the country.