OPINION: Spotlight must return to the Tory message

I planned to write at length about Amanda Platell's video secrets,

but I won't as I thought it too trivial to bother with. As an act of

treachery, I thought it ineffectual, but the timing of transmission by

Channel 4 was certainly deliberate and the print media, like a trout,

leapt at the fly as usual.

By September the party will have a new leader - we now face a stark

choice between the Europhile Kenneth Clarke and the right-wing Iain

Duncan Smith - and will begin the job of being Her Majesty's Opposition.

It is clear the Tories must set an alternative agenda that will attract

millions of new Conservative voters, some returning, others never having

voted Tory before.

Only one in four voters supported Labour at the last election, so there

is plenty of opportunity. But the mountain they have to climb is high,

not least now that our electoral system heavily favours Labour. If the

Conservatives had won as many votes as Labour in June, they would still

not have won as many seats as Labour did.

Whoever the Tories' new leader may be, he - for that is the one certain

thing (and what a pity!) - will have to attract the business community,

middle Britain and, of course, the media. These three groups are

disaffected and disappointed with Labour and Conservatives alike. The

key to success will be to establish positive relationships with all

three groups. Listen to their concerns, tell them what's to be done to

make things better, be effective and most of all create a sense of

direction that demonstrates that the mediocrity and paucity of ambition

so beloved of the Blair government are not good enough.

The Tories must appoint a chairman in the mould of Lords Thorneycroft,

Parkinson, Baker or Tebbit. Then, they must compile a talented comms

team, not to spin but to get the message across. How many times have I

heard 'That's not what I said/meant', or 'If you really knew him you'd

like him'? Explaining failure is no good.

In 1980 I was invited to visit the Taoiseach in Ireland, Charles


He said he wanted 'a new image'. I replied: 'I don't really believe in

new images. I believe the job is to clear away false perception, play

down weaknesses, heighten strengths and put the real person before the

voter and let them decide!' He replied: 'Do you know anybody who does do

new images?'

The Tories must put the spotlight back on the message, not the


Platell has had her 15 minutes (and more) of fame. But was it designed

to help the party or her? Past Tory communications advisers - including

Maurice Saatchi, Gordon Reece and myself, none of whom are exactly

shrinking violets - have never gone in for self-indulgent and inevitably

corrosive public disclosures. Hiring somebody who has already got to the

top might be a good insurance policy.

The Conservatives and Britain need a new leader and it should have been

Michael Portillo.

- Charlie Whelan is on holiday.

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