Tory brand blues

The contest to lead the Conservative Party into the next election has ended up as a fight between the two Davids, although at times the media’s love for David Cameron suggests it is more a matter of Davis against Goliath.

Whoever wins has two daunting tasks ahead. He must create and then effectively communicate the image of a strong party leader and Prime Minister-in-waiting. But he must also oversee the complete reinvention of the Conservatives to create a political brand that can unseat Labour.

One former Tory MP says: “Marketing the party and marketing the leader are two separate things.” He believes that the core message for a Cameron-led Conservative Party would be only subtly different from that for a Davis-led party. “Davis would have to come in from the right, soften and be more inclusive. Cameron would have to toughen up a lot and move more to the right.”

Not all experts believe either man is capable of driving a fundamental change in the Conservative brand. Lord Bell, Margaret Thatcher’s PR guru and a major force behind successive election victories in the 1970s and 1980s, says: “Both say they want to have a modern Conservative Party, but what that means in terms of marketing the party is anyone’s guess.” As for recreating the party, Lord Bell adds: “Should they do it? Yes. Will they do it? Almost certainly not. They don’t have that sort of imagination.”

Lord Bell (pictured) argues that the Conservatives are mistaken if they think they need “their own Blair, at a time when Labour is getting rid of him and the next election is going to be against Gordon Brown”.

Michael Peters, the design guru who created the party’s flaming torch logo for Margaret Thatcher, says rebranding is the only way the Conservative Party can win: “It’s a tarnished brand and needs a complete rethink. Even the name is up for grabs.”

Lord Bell agrees the party needs to be rebranded, starting with a new name, proposing “The Modern Conservatives”. The word “modern” needs to be at the heart of everything the party does from now on, he argues, to distance it from its past. The party’s logo will need to change, too, although that doesn’t necessarily mean dropping the torch.

But Michael Moszynski, chief executive of Immediate Sales, the M&C Saatchi subsidiary that handled the Conservatives’ advertising account during the 2005 election, is opposed to a name change for the party, saying: “That would be a cynical and unsubtle aping of New Labour.” But he acknowledges that there is a problem with the Conservative brand, highlighted by research finding voters supported its key policy issues – until they were told they were Tory policies. “Our policies alone beat Labour’s in a ‘blind tasting’. But we had a problem with ‘brand pollution’ â they supported our ideas until they were associated with the Conservative Party.”

And there lies the core marketing problem for any future Conservative leader: the Labour Party has already reinvented itself and moved to occupy the centre ground Margaret Thatcher’s lurch to the right left open for colonisation. As one ex-Tory MP points out, Tony Blair’s New Labour has become a carbon copy of the old Conservative Party on so many issues, it is difficult to see why UK voters, with their natural small “c” conservatism, would abandon it. He says: “As a Tory, why would I want to get rid of Tony Blair?”

Martin Croft

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