Public Affairs: Soap Box - Paul Richards, independent consultant and former special adviser

The best way to get a political story out is to deliver a private presentation to MPs, and make them promise not to leak it.

So it proved last week with the 'secret' rebranding work being overseen by Liberal Democrat comms chief Collette Dunkley. Her agency, XandY Communications, specialised in building markets among women; and she worked for Vodafone and General Motors.

The brief is simple: take a brand with Chernobyl-levels of contamination and rescue it in time for the next general election. It's tough. The latest polls suggest the Lib Dems are a couple of points ahead of UKIP. If they slip any further, the pollsters will have to list them in the 'others' column.

Can a political party successfully rebrand? Bill Clinton managed it with the 'New Democrats', later copied in spades by 'New Labour.' Maurice Saatchi spent a small fortune on polling and research to help the Tories shed their 'nasty' image.

By merging the SDP and Liberal Party, Nick Clegg's predecessors managed it with the 'Liberal Democrats' in 1989. Their phoenix logo survived Thatcher's jibe that it looked like a 'dead parrot'. It is now the longest-lasting party symbol.

The leaked rebranding plans suggest a comparison with Oxfam - a brand built on solid progressive values and tradition. Unfortunately, an appeal to the glorious days of Gladstone will cut little ice on polling day. In politics, your brand is only as good as what you've done lately. That's why the Lib Dems take credit for every positive policy emanating from Whitehall. Without small victories, their presence in the coalition looks like a big mistake.

Following the leaks, a Lib Dem press officer was quoted in the press: 'There is no question of panic. This exercise is part of the process of transition from being the third party.'

The Lib Dems have to hope that their 'transition' is not from third to fourth.

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