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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 17:15 GMT
Profile: Lord Waheed Alli
Lord Alli speaking in the House of Lords in February 2000
Lord Alli: First of a new wave of new Labour peers
He was the brains behind Channel Four's Big Breakfast - and the first of a new generation of New Labour working peers appointed to revolutionise the House of Lords

Millionaire Waheed Alli, given a life peerage at the age of 34 in 1998, became the youngest and first openly gay peer in Parliament, and a man that Prime Minister Tony Blair believed could help him reach out to a younger generation.

While one national newspaper described Waheed Alli as the man who "perfected TV presented by morons for morons", he was nominated to the influential Panel 2000, a 25-strong group established to advise the government on the right image to present abroad.

Anti-establishment

Lord Alli was seen as the antithesis of the stereotypical "establishment" peer - young, Asian and from the world of media and entertainment.

Some commentators initially dismissed his ennoblement as a bad joke, citing his inexperience and insinuating that his position had more to do with his New Labour connections than any political talent.

But he took a prominent role in the battle over the age of consent and the attempted repeal of Section 28, the legislation that bans local authorities from promoting homosexuality (campaigners say it prevents agencies carrying out legitimate health education work).

Left school

Waheed Alli was bought up in south London and left school after his O levels.

Bob Geldof
Business partner: Bob Geldof
At the age of 16 he got his first job as a 40-a-week researcher on a magazine called Planned Savings, before going on to work for the late Robert Maxwell's publishing companies.

In the mid-1980s Alli, living in fashionable Islington, got a job in the City and began earning big money.

But he got bored of investment banking and formed a television production company with Charlie Parsons, a rising star of television.

They teamed up with Bob Geldof in 1992 to form Planet 24 Productions, and through a series of shrewd deals - including their audacious win of Channel Four's breakfast slot - made a lot of money.

Age of consent

It was with the age of consent row in the House of Lords that Lord Alli found his public political feet.

"I have never been confused about my sexuality. The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown, some of it tonight

Lord Alli addressing fellow peers
As one of the leaders of the pro-equalisation camp, he attempted to take the fight to the opposition, led by Conservative party's Baroness Young.

Speaking in April 1999, while the arguments around attempts to change the age of consent were raging, Lord Alli told peers that he was gay.

"I am 34. I was gay when I was 24, when I was 21, when I was 20, when I was 19, when I was 18, when I was 17 and even when I was 16," he said.

"I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it.

"The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown, some of it tonight, and much of it enshrined in the law."

And quoting a famous poem on the discrimination of the Nazi era written by a German churchman (see internet link on the right), he concluded:

"In tonight's vote I should like your Lordships to speak out for me and millions like me, not because you agree or disagree or because you approve or disapprove, but because if you do not protect me in this House you protect no one."

In a later debate, Lord Alli likened the arguments of Baroness Young to that of a "kindly grandparent", adding: "let the people of my generation live their lives in their own way".

Despite the bitterness that has surrounded the debate outside of Parliament, Lord Alli, like his opposite number Baroness Young, appeared to be seeking to avoid it in the Lords, declaring publicly that he did not believe her to be bigoted.

Future prospects

The future for Lord Alli appears to be increasingly focused on politics.

In November this year he left Carlton Television, which bought Planet 24 some 18 months ago, amid a company restructuring.

Media pundits have it that he was edged out amid a boardroom scramble for the top jobs, but Westminster watchers are already reporting that he is being lined up for a top job in the heart of New Labour's Millbank headquarters in London.

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