Express sets sight on meeting with mayor

Desmond: mayor would be useful

Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond has asked for a meeting with London Mayor Ken Livingstone ahead of the launch of his new London evening newspaper.

Desmond’s spokesman said he hoped to have the meeting shortly.

Livingstone is in a prolonged and acrimonious war with Associated Newspapers’ Evening Standard, which, along with Metro, is the target of Desmond’s planned free Evening Mail.

With the launch of the new paper just eight to 10 weeks away, it is thought Desmond sees Livingstone as a useful man to have in his camp and thinks he has been shabbily treated by the Standard.

"The thinking is quite straightforward," said Desmond’s spokesman. "Livingstone is elected Mayor of London and is an important figure in the London community. Appraising him of the plans and getting the backing of the people who voted for him is important."

A meeting with Desmond, his editors and the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street recently drew a fair amount of enthusiasm from the PM and his aides for the launch. Tony Blair, too, has his reasons for disliking the Associated papers, which have been none too kind to him.

But the spokesman stressed that the Evening Mail would neither be a "Labour nor a Livingstone paper".

Currently in charge of the launch, ahead of the appointment of a commercial director, is Chris Haslum, Express Newspapers’ development manager, who joined the company in June from Private Eye. Haslum is best remembered for his time at the Telegraph group, where the blame for the discount subscriptions fiasco on the daily and Sunday titles was laid at his door.

More dummies are being worked on, and what one insider described as a "stunning" distribution system is being perfected.

The company has talked to the Press Association about the supply of a comprehensive service from the national news agency for the new title during wider talks about the group’s existing contract with PA. The agency already supplies Metro with a similar service but is obliged to supply all-comers.

lNUJ journalists at the Express have postponed their strike ballot for a week while they continue talks on sub-editing jobs moving north. The chapel has been encouraged by a discussion document and proposals put forward by the company.

By Jean Morgan

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