The Conservative Party manifesto branded 'wonkish' by former Tory comms director

Ex-Conservative comms director says party risks overcooking modernisation.

Tory manifesto launch: Battersea Power Station
Tory manifesto launch: Battersea Power Station

The Conservative Party's election manifesto has been derided as 'a bit wonkish' by a former Tory comms director.

Writing in PRWeek, Tim Collins commended Tory leader David Cameron for his 'dynamic, energetic and optimistic' campaign so far, reserving special praise for the party's use of veteran actor Michael Caine last week.

But Collins was critical of the party's manifesto, launched on Tuesday, with a focus on promising to give people more power to set up their own schools, sack MPs and veto high council tax increases. 'People largely do not want to run their public services - or their airlines or mobile phone companies,' claimed Collins.

He also suggested that Tory strategy director Steve Hilton now risked going too far in his attempt to modernise the Tory brand.

Collins was a speech writer for Margaret Thatcher and press secretary for John Major throughout his victorious 1992 general election campaign, before becoming the party's communications director and then a Tory MP.

He is one of a three-strong PRWeek 'expert panel' who will cast an eye over the campaigning of the three main parties during the general election.

To publicise the Tory manifesto, launched at Battersea Power Station, the party projected a large image on to the building the night before.

Labour's manifesto launch took place on Monday at a new hospital. Alongside the manifesto, the party unveiled a viral campaign, featuring a set of promotional materials conceived and designed by Ridley Scott Associates and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Labour's campaign co-ordinator Douglas Alexander said: 'We hope our animated films will spread the word about our plans way beyond policy wonks and journalists.'

The Liberal Democrats were due to launch their manifesto on Wednesday, as PRWeek went to press.

 

Expert analysis:

PAUL RICHARDS - Labour

'If the medium is the message, so is the venue for a manifesto launch. Labour chose a vast, expensive, new NHS hospital in Birmingham. We will still be paying for it when my children are subscribing to Saga Magazine. The Tories chose Battersea Power Station: looks good from a distance, but up close it is crumbling and hollow.

Labour's manifesto cover is art deco, but the content is pure New Labour. Peter Mandelson called it 'Blair-plus'. Ed Balls was filmed asking incredulously 'he didn't really say that, did he?', proving that microphones are always on. The media enjoyed lampooning the 21-year-old Labour queen of Twitter 'Bevanite Ellie', who introduced the PM at the launch, but had blogged in 2008 that he should 'get his coat'.

The backdrop to Brown's speech strobed like crazy, ruining the TV news pictures. But behind Labour's continuing PR 'snafus' is a radical programme. I have read it cover to cover. It is not the manifesto of a party that has given up.'

Richards formerly advised cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears, and is the author of How to Win an Election. He writes a weekly column for Progress

 

TIM COLLINS - Conservatives

'The polls still do not agree on whether the Conservative lead is quite enough for a majority, but they do all show that David Cameron is thought to have run the best campaign so far.

He has been dynamic, energetic and optimistic - travelling furthest, doing the most media, collecting the largest number of business endorsements, launching more new policy. Getting Michael Caine, the ultimate symbol of Sixties rebellion against the Establishment, to back an old Etonian - perfect.

My only concern? The manifesto was a bit wonkish.

People largely do not want to run their own public services - or their airlines or mobile phone companies either. They just want to be able to choose from a range of reasonably priced alternatives that actually work.

The Tories need to hammer home their message of better management, more choice and lower taxes. My old friend Steve Hilton has done great things with the Conservative brand, but there are limits. Few people who want communes are going to vote Tory.'

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs MD Collins is a former Conservative Party comms director and has served in the shadow cabinet

 

IAN WRIGHT - Liberal Democrats

'A difficult week for Labour, although it ended in better shape as a result of its manifesto launch. A strong start for the Conservatives too, whose National Insurance contributions story and tax proposals dominated campaigning. They also cleverly leveraged the credibility of other brands to bolster their own standing. Hence the drip, drip of big-name companies to support the NI campaign. Hence the meeting at Warburtons. Hence Ian Botham and Michael Caine. Politicians have no credibility? Borrow it from someone else.

For the Lib Dems, it has been a solid and effective week. Nick Clegg has produced impressive pictures from his tour. He has drawn plaudits for being the only major party leader to continuously meet and engage with real people. One concern remains the disproportionate coverage of the Con-Lab battle in the printed media. But this period has a real feeling of phoney war. The lines for the rest of the election will be drawn definitively in the first leaders' TV debate.'

Wright has advised Liberal Democrat leaders Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg.

 

90: Length in minutes of first television debate between leaders this week

10%: Proportion of MPs that Tories promise to cut

74: Pages of Labour's manifesto

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