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