Advertisersand Backers Go Cool as Desmond Counts Cost of Outburst
Ciar Byrne, Damian Reece, Ben Russell and Katherine Griffiths, The Independent (London, England)
RICHARD DESMOND is counting the political and business cost of his extraordinary racist outburst in which he referred to all Germans as Nazis and goosestepped around a business meeting with rival newspaper executives.
Reports of Mr Desmond's crude attempts to unsettle representatives from the Telegraph Group, who had met him on Thursday to discuss a jointly owned printing plant, brought condemnation yesterday from Labour and Conservative politicians.
Business figures also criticised Mr Desmond, with several threatening to withdraw advertising from his newspapers, which include the Daily Express and The Star. More lasting damage could result, however, from the reaction of Commerzbank, which bankrolled Mr Desmond's pounds 125m takeover of The Daily Express in 2000; it is now thought likely to blacklist him.
Also on Thursday the Daily Express announced its intention to switch allegiance to the Tories, a move that is now proving highly embarrassing for the Conservative Party. Ian Taylor, the pro- European former Tory minister, condemned the tycoon's comments as "outrageous". He said: "The Tory party should withdraw support from the Daily Express. Desmond's behaviour indicates that the Express is not a newspaper which is respectable. Whichever political party it supports will be embarrassed."
Conservative Central Office was not officially commenting on the reports, describing them as part of a private dispute. A senior party source said: "The support of the Express is hugely symbolic and significant, but we should be cautious about taking money from Mr Desmond. We should keep him at arm's length. Michael Howard is wise enough and big enough to do that." A senior shadow minister added: "He is somebody worth drawing breath before you do anything particularly close with him."
The Tories' embarrassment was compounded when it emerged that the Express chief launched an expletive-laden attack on Mr Howard last May. At the end of a private lunch held on May 6, Mr Desmond told Mr Howard: "The problem with the fucking Tories is that you're fucking fucked." One person who attended the lunch said: "Howard was visibly shocked. He was not prepared and was not properly briefed. He tried to make light of it by saying that Desmond must have been a bit grumpy because Arsenal had lost the night before."
Labour also condemned Mr Desmond's actions, with Denis MacShane, the minister for Europe, issuing a statement through the British embassy in Berlin decrying the Express owner's declaration that Germans were "all Nazis", made in reference to the publishing company Axel Springer, which is poised to buy the Telegraph titles. "Mr Desmond's comments should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve. This kind of racism against Germans is utterly repugnant to decent British people," Mr MacShane said. Labour ran into a storm of protest within the party in 2002 after it emerged that Mr Desmond had given it pounds 100,000.
Mr Desmond still owes Commerzbank a small amount of the money he borrowed to buy The Express. The German lender was also partly backing his pounds 500m bid for the Telegraph newspapers. …