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Express columnist Peter Hitchens
"If I was a rich man I would have gone on day one"
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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 02:35 GMT
Veteran columnist quits Express
Peter Hitchens
Journalist Peter Hitchens bids the Express farewell
Daily Express columnist Peter Hitchens is quitting the paper after 24 years.

He is the latest to join the exodus from the troubled title since it was taken over last month by Richard Desmond, publisher of OK! and a string of consumer and leisure magazines.

The newspaper industry expects that Mr Desmond will make far-reaching changes at the Daily Express, downgrading the paper's emphasis on politics and boosting coverage of TV and entertainment.

If I was a rich man I would have gone on day one

Peter Hitchens

Hitchens' departure breaks the last link with the traditional Daily Express established by Lord Beaverbrook to support the Conservative Party and promote the values of British nationalism.

In recent years, sharply declining circulation and fierce competition from the Daily Mail has led to losses at the paper followed by several changes in ownership.

Most recently, under the ownership of Lord Clive Hollick and editorship of pioneer feminist campaigner Rosie Boycott, the paper has been a staunch supporter of Tony Blair and the Labour Party.

Hitchens stuck by his outspoken support for the Conservative Party and the political right through all these upheavals.

gun and holster
Law and order. Hitchens has strong views.
He became well known for championing the cause of private gun ownership - a civil liberty which he thought ought to be extended to the British as the only really effective way to reduce robbery.

Hitchens is also one of the UK's foremost campaigners for "family values" - he opposes sexual permissiveness and the prevalence of pornography in print and on TV.

The difficulty is that Mr Desmond, the new owner of the Express, is the publisher of a string of sex magazines with titles like Asian Babes and Naked Readers Wives.

Hitchens says working for the new owner would have represented a moral conflict of interest since he had always attacked the type of magazines which Mr Desmond publishes.

He said on Friday he thought that aspects of Mr Desmond's publishing empire represented the coarseness and decline in the civility of society he had for so long decried.

Richard Desmond with newspapers
New owner: Richard Desmond
"If I was a rich man I would have gone on day one," said Hitchens. In the event, he waited until he could find a new job at the Mail on Sunday.

The Express will now lose one of the most colourful and controversial figures on the national newspaper scene.

Peter Hitchens is the brother of Christopher Hitchens, the left-wing author and TV documentary-maker.

As a student, Peter was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, an extreme left-wing group.

Sorry I'm late... I was trying to start the revolution

The young Peter Hitchens
He was best remembered at the University of York, where he studied politics, for telling his tutor: "I am sorry I am late. I was trying to start the revolution."

After the conversion of the Express to the Labour cause, the stridently Tory views of Hitchens stuck out like a sore thumb.

He nevertheless remained the Express's most popular columnist, receiving far more letters than any other.

Meanwhile, internet reports suggest Ms Boycott has sent a letter to Mr Desmond, criticising his treatment of staff after 60 people were made redundant on Wednesday.

Mr Desmond and his Northern and Shell Group bought the Express titles two weeks ago as part of a 125m deal with United News & Media boss Lord Hollick.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Business
Last chance Express?
22 Nov 00 | Business
OK! owner buys Express
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