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
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
- Charlie Whelan is on holiday.