George Pitcher, managing director of communications consultancy Luther
Pendragon and former industrial editor of the Observer, takes the Tories
to task for focusing on style rather than content
The right wing of the Conservative Party gathered at a Heathrow hotel
last weekend in order to be assessed and advised by ‘image consultant’
Ms Spillane runs a consultancy called Colour Me Beautiful, though Colour
Me Electable must have been the brief at Heathrow. The course promised
40 members of Conservative Way Forward (CWF) the opportunity to learn
how to look like ‘happy, normal people’.
What interests me here is the manner in which CWF, headed by the urbane
and dyed-in-the-flesh Lord Parkinson, flagged the event in the press
One would have thought that the need to attend a style-counselling
session would be a cause for concealment and a source of embarrassment,
like being caught by an acquaintance at the toupee counter.
But, of course, part of the exercise is to let the electorate know that
right-wing Conservatives are worried about their image and that we might
not like them.
The story was duly broken in the Financial Times on Tuesday under the
headline ‘Tory right wing told to burn their blazers’. This might have
been perceived as a one-off colour story if it hadn’t reappeared as the
Times’ front-page hamper, no less, on Saturday under the headline ‘Tory
high-flyers to get dressed down on dressing up’.
This was clearly a story that was being pushed. You might say that it
was a case of ‘string it out - it’s the only language these people
The trouble with this kind of exercise - blaming the packaging, rather
than its contents - is that it can backfire.
One candidate was quoted as saying that ‘it is very difficult to get the
balance right between looking like a stuffed shirt and a trainspotter or
nightclubber’, thereby confirming that today’s Conservative Party is
comprised entirely of stuffed shirts and trainspotters who are simply
trying to look like they’re not.
So, the charge is that CWF’s efforts to present the Tory right as
cuddly, saloon-bar blokes in fact drew attention to a party bereft of
direction and so vacant of political substance that its best idea is to
change its wardrobe.
Guilty. String ’em up - it’s the only language they understand.