LONDON: The UK Conservative Party is driving ahead with its plans to fill its vacant communications director post as it faces one of the biggest PR challenges in its history.
Sources close to the recruitment process say party bosses have drawn up a shortlist of candidates for the top PR role, with Kevin Bell, managing director of Fleishman-Hillard-owned firm GPC, understood to be among those being considered.
Speculation suggests that the party is keen to bring recruitment to a close, and one source said the Conservatives were down "to the last few" preferred candidates.
It is understood that the party is looking for a PR chief with a strong commercial background, possibly with marketing experience.
Bell is known to already provide ad hoc communications advice to the party, and is a close ally of a number of leading Conservatives, including former chairman David Davis and member of Parliament Michael Portillo, both of whom stood unsuccessfully in last year's leadership race.
Bell declined to comment on the role, except to say, "I'm very happy where I currently am."
While Bell is understood to be a front-runner for the job, friends close to the GPC chief claim he is not interested in taking the role, left vacant following the departure of former communications director Amanda Platell over a year ago.
The Conservative Party is currently facing one of its worst-ever communications crises, heightened by leader Iain Duncan Smith's recent "unite or die" speech, which fueled press speculation over dissent within the party.
And last weekend, an ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll revealed that just 25% of all voters feel he is doing an effective job.
It has been speculated that some of the party's image problems stems from the delay in finding a communications chief.