Election 97: PRWeek’s panel of experts give their view on who’s winning the battle of political spin

John Underwood, senior partner Clear Communication and former director of communications for the Labour Party.

John Underwood, senior partner Clear Communication and former

director of communications for the Labour Party.

Another disastrous week for the Tories. For a short period it looked as

if they might have Labour on the ropes over its trade union proposals

but the resignation of Tim Smith, allegations surrounding Piers Merchant

and the departure of key Tories in Scotland saw the media refocus on the

one big issue of the campaign so far - sleaze. John Major seems unable

to give a simple answer to the question ’is it acceptable for MPs to

take bribes?’ and Labour were the clear winners in the ’agenda war’.

As the campaign moves into top gear perhaps the biggest threat to Labour

is that journalists abhor an inevitable outcome. In their desire to

generate a ’horse race’ they may begin to talk up the Tories’ chances.

Watch out for a shift away from sleaze towards more positive campaigning

with poster campaigns and party political broadcasts beginning in


Verdict: Week two to Labour. Surely it can’t get any worse for the

Tories ... can it?

Hugh Colver, public affairs consultant and former director of

communications for the Conservative Party.

The lesson for the Conservatives is a simple one - familiar to everyone

in our business. If you have a powerful brand, accustomed to a position

of leadership in its market, you control the way the brand image is used

and you nurture its position with great care.

Think of the Labour Party in the political market only a few years ago -

losing market share, with a product that did not find favour with its

customers. By any standards in serious trouble and sinking fast. Neil

Kinnock moved to reorganise and reposition, but he had too much

emotional attachment to the origins of the product. So Tony Blair

changed the people, changed the image, and appeared to change the


This past week has proved that the Tories need to take ruthless


Single-minded brand promotion is lacking. The marketing team out at the

extremities of the organisation has lost the message. They should be

told to go and spend more time with their families. The brand will only

recapture its market if it reasserts itself.

Verdict: Week two to Labour by default

Olly Grender, director of communications for Shelter and former director

of communications for the Liberal Democrats

If the Conservatives are to make any impact in this campaign they must

get sleaze off the agenda. The word now covers a multitude of sins from

’cash for questions’ to sexual peccadilloes. They should ignore the

latter and concentrate on answering allegations of corruption.

Central Office should have one team dealing with sleaze while the main

team concentrates on keeping the campaign ’on message’. It is also now

in the interests of both the opposition parties to move on to issues

that mean something to people, like taxes, education, health and


Any other strategy will devalue the currency of politics and risk a low


As the poster campaign starts to hot up there is such confusion that I

pity anyone not addicted to politics. Labour announces that ’Britain

deserves better’ as the Tories proclaim that ’Britain is booming’. And

who is this friend of Tony Blair called Bill? This is all a far cry from

’Tax bombshell’ and ’You can’t trust Labour’. Spotting the coherent

message is like mission impossible.

Verdict: Winners - anyone who’d rather discuss politicians and sex than


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