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No regrets, Ad men get their way

April 13, 2010

By Sumeet Desai

At first glance it looks like a Smythson diary in a deep and
sombre blue. Look closer and it’s the new Conservative Party
manifesto.

It’s a slim bound volume that, according to Tory press
officers, eschews the usual slogans. Instead is an “Invitation
to Join the Government of Britain” — David Cameron’s big new
idea.

No new policies. Just a call to arms to the British people:
“We’re all in this together”. Apparently government does not
have all the solutions. Instead of Labour’s top-down approach, a
Tory government would empower people to take charge of their own
lives and communities.
Older Conservatives must be gnashing their teeth at the new
age adland speak but at this stage of the campaign — the
election is just over three weeks away — the party desperately
needed something to pull further ahead of Labour.

After enjoying a double digit poll lead much of last year,
the Tories lost momentum at the start of this year as the
economy recovered and they wobbled over some of their key
messages.

Panic crept in. Advertising agency, M&C Saatchi, where Steve
Hilton, Cameron’s right-hand man and blue skies thinker once
worked, was brought in. The Saatchi Brothers, Maurice and
Charles, were favourites of Margaret Thatcher and designed the
famous “Labour isn’t working” poster in 1979.

Their message was simple. Hit Gordon Brown hard and wrap
your policies up with a bow.

The manifesto launch could not have been slicker. Huge
projections were shone on Battersea Power Station Monday night
announcing a new member of Cameron’s team. “The British public”
was the eventual answer.
The symbolism on Tuesday was plain. The disused power
station stood for “broken Britain”. Labour had their manifesto
launch at a gleaming new hospital.

And under the “big tent”, Cameron unveiled his vision of a
“big society” where people took over their pubs and post offices
and volunteered to make the world a better place.

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you
can do for your country,” he said, quoting JFK. (He must be
hoping the coming TV debate doesn’t have anyone tell him he’s no
Jack Kennedy).

The overall message was hope and the promise of a brighter
future. Maybe it will sell but whoever wins, the British people
have a long hard slog ahead because no amount of good will can
put off the tough spending cuts that lie ahead.

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