Boost for Howard as 'Express' decides to back Tories

Michael Howard scored a major coup last night as the Daily Express came out in support of the Conservatives.

The title, historically a strong Tory backer, had endorsed Labour at the last election and its owner, Richard Desmond, gave the party £100,000 of free advertising in the run-up to polling day.

But in a strongly worded front-page article, the Daily Express today says it has taken the "historic decision" to tell Tony Blair "enough is enough" and it will support the Tories at the election expected next year. It argues that a change of government is necessary to "restore faith in democracy".

Mr Desmond was a past Tory supporter and donated £5,000 to the party when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. After buying Express Newspapers in 2000, he transferred his allegiance to Labour and became a regular visitor to Downing Street.

But in recent years his papers, which include the Sunday Express and The Star, have become strident critics of government policies on immigration and asylum. Patrick O'Flynn, political editor of the Daily Express, said: "This is a decision by Peter Hill, our editor, in the best interests of our readers."

The switch will provide a major morale boost for the Tories and, with Mr Desmond believed to have a fortune of more than £400m, they will be hoping that he will become a major donor.

It was unclear last night whether the Sunday Express or The Star, which also supported Labour at the last election, would follow suit.

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