The first 'unofficial' week of the election campaign - which ended
by common consent with a solid and unexpected win for William Hague and
the Tories - has identified a major PR issue. What is best to sway
people to vote and uncommitted voters to vote your way? Is it a leader
like Tony Blair, who operates in an hermetically-sealed capsule, never
permitted to escape into the real world to encounter real people with
uncomfortable opinions, or one, like Mr Hague, who gets out and about,
and, however untidily, demonstrates that he's a born campaigner?
Put another way, is the guaranteed formula for victory to look all
slick, choreographed and polished on TV? This, it seems, is what Downing
Street believes. If so, we should not be surprised.
New Labour has been marketing Mr Blair like soap flakes for at least
four years and has 20-point opinion poll leads to show for it. So, it
isn't going to stop now, not even if commentators - left, right and
centre - hold the whole 'toe-curling' business up to ridicule, whether
Mr Blair is politically abusing south London schoolchildren or
carefully-selected adults in Leamington Spa.
So we must carefully put the question a third way: do Labour's spin
doctors believe that all that counts in elections is what it looks like
That leads to the politically-charged question: do they think that the
British public accepts all it sees and hears on the box and that all
that matters is the impression they take away with them? You might hold
this view if you regarded the electorate as morons and there was no
other media coverage of the campaign. But we have wall-to-wall and
floor-to-ceiling commentary on the whole ridiculous business by a press
which, for all its addiction to stunts, is pretty disparaging about
other people's artificialities.
The result, even before Parliament was dissolved and the campaign
formally launched, was a growing impression of Mr Sham versus Mr Real.
That impression was heightened by Mr Hague giving himself a platform by
publishing a quick manifesto a week ahead of Labour while Labour
spokesmen twisted on the rack of 'stealth' taxes and hospital waiting
lists. This is the last thing one would have expected of a party and
government obsessed with presentation.
We therefore have to ask ourselves whether Labour is weighed down by
arrogance, over-confidence and an absolute belief in its ability to
Surely they realise that after four years in government and endless
spinning they are vulnerable to attack? The people have had time to form
an impression of their motivation, methods, competence and delivery.
While many allowances are still made for them, there is disillusionment,
apathy and a certain queasiness about their presentational methods.
Their immediate campaign did nothing to dispel any of these
vote-killers. No wonder Gordon Brown, campaign co-ordinator, is being
shot as I write.