Air strikes deflect attention from Tories

On my way to Blackpool for the Conservative Party conference I

stopped off in Manchester for England's World Cup match. On the same

plane was Tory shadow sports minister Tim Yeo.

I assumed he was flying up for the conference but he was, in fact, just

going to the game and flying back to London to play golf. Not only does

he seem to be the only Tory I know who has got his priorities right, he

must have had a premonition because all his colleagues had to return to

London as soon as they got to Blackpool for the recall of


Some cynics in Blackpool suggested Tony Blair timed the opening night of

the attacks on Afghanistan in order to sabotage the Tory conference.

They may not realise it but he actually did them a big favour.

Most journalists here also had to go straight back to London and some,

such as the BBC's Mark Mardell, were on a Virgin train for seven hours

and didn't even leave Blackpool station before going back.

With few hacks on parade and a much bigger story elsewhere, the Tories

have prevented a PR disaster. The failure of delegates to see what a

mess they are in was summed up when champagne-quaffing Tories refused to

move out of the room designated for live TV.

Iain Duncan Smith was forced to address the nation from the hotel foyer

instead. The most striking thing about the conference was how few

companies bothered to come - they are deserting the Tories in droves.

The fact is the media would have had a field day reporting the demise of

this once-great party. Now the Tories have time to regroup.

The Tories have moved quickly to sort out their press office by

appointing ex-Times hack Nick Wood to run the operation. But I can't

help thinking that they should look outside politics when appointing

their media team.

How about the man responsible for one of the best PR scams I can


On Saturday, Nationwide media relations manager Chris Hull was on the

Old Trafford pitch as soon as the final whistle went, and he arranged

the team behind banners reading 'Nationwide: We're going to the World

Cup'. You couldn't pay too much for that sort of publicity.

And what about Susie Mathis, who organised for the terminally-ill

six-year-old Kirsty Howard to lead out the England team. She also forced

Blair to stick to his word over funding a children's hospice. The fact

is that such talented people wouldn't want to be associated with a

failed product such as the Tory Party.

Thankfully this year's party conference season is over and I can rest my

liver. My award for the worst PR decision goes to McDonald's, which paid

World Cup hero Geoff Hurst to promote its presence at Labour's

conference in Brighton. The only publicity they got was Hurst being rude

about Birmingham.

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