CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/MAURICE SAATCHI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TORIES; Can Lord Saatchi claim four Tory election wins?
By MEG CARTER, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 August 1996 12:00AM
The Saatchis’ contribution to the Tory Party cannot be overstated. If you read last week’s reports about Maurice (now Lord) Saatchi’s importance to Conservative Party campaigns over the past 20 years, you could be forgiven for thinking that he single-handedly devised, art directed, wrote, produced, climbed the ladder and even posted the many memorable ads himself.
The Saatchis’ contribution to the Tory Party cannot be overstated.
If you read last week’s reports about Maurice (now Lord) Saatchi’s
importance to Conservative Party campaigns over the past 20 years, you
could be forgiven for thinking that he single-handedly devised, art
directed, wrote, produced, climbed the ladder and even posted the many
memorable ads himself.
According to a cross-section of broadsheet newspapers, he was ‘pivotal’
in four Conservative election victories, solely responsible for keeping
Margaret Thatcher in power and personally penned the famous ‘Labour
isn’t working’ and ‘tax bombshell’ slogans.
Such is the mythical status that Maurice enjoys. But it is a reputation
that has polarised opinion. Take the responses of two senior industry
figures to the debate surrounding his peerage.
‘He’s never been near a piece of creative in his life,’ a former Saatchi
and Saatchi colleague bluntly observes. ‘The ‘creative genius’ thing is
outrageous. The creative genius is Charles.’
A senior M&C Saatchi source counters: ‘He’s been the key strategic
thinker on the business. He has no claim on the lines, although he did
write the ‘New Labour. New danger’ strategy, and came up with the
So what exactly has Maurice done for the Conservatives over the years?
His involvement with the party - although significant - has varied from
election to election. He may now have the ear of senior Conservative
officials, but that has not always been the case.
Until the 1987 general election, Sir Tim Bell had ultimate
responsibility for the party’s campaigning. It was he who was directly
accountable to Thatcher.
‘Maurice’s contribution was significant - as a supreme communications
strategist,’ one former colleague says.
Maurice, Charles and Bell worked closely together and with a number of
creatives, including Andrew Rutherford, who penned ‘Labour isn’t
working’, Jeremy Sinclair and Simon Dicketts.
However, in the early days it was Bell who was credited with having the
political nous. ‘[Maurice] doesn’t have great political flair,’ Bell
says in Ivan Fallon’s 1988 book, the Brothers. ‘I would be very good at
saying what the politicians thought and how they thought it was going,
and he would be very good at ignoring that and saying: ‘Fine. Well, they
don’t know what they’re talking about - now let’s work out a good
The Saatchi brothers’ involvement with the Conservatives’ advertising
began in March 1978 when they won the account. One of their earliest
achievements was persuading the Conservatives to fuse the previously
separate roles of advertising and party political broadcasts, Robin
Wight, the WCRS chairman, who at the time was on Conservative Central
Office’s advertising advisory committee, says.
But it was for their involvement in overhauling Thatcher’s image that
the brothers became known worldwide. However, Fallon says the credit for
this should have gone to the TV producer and Thatcher adviser, Gordon
Reece. ‘Later, the belief that the Saatchis restyled and repackaged
Thatcher became almost unshakeable,’ he wrote. ‘And the brothers,
although pointing out the real story in private, did little to
In 1979 and 1982, Bell, Sinclair, Maurice and Charles worked together
closely on the Conservative account. Bell was the front-man, with
responsibility for selling their ideas to Conservative Central Office,
although on strategic matters he deferred decisions to Maurice, as did
By 1987 Bell had left Saatchi and Saatchi and Thatcher never had the
same relationship with the agency again. She started to worry that the
campaigns were ‘too gimmicky’, Fallon wrote. The former Young and
Rubicam chairman, John Banks, was called in as an advisor and, for a
year or so before the 1987 election, rumours circulated that Saatchi and
Saatchi was about to be ditched.
Thatcher urged Maurice to second Bell to the 1987 election campaign, but
he refused.So, unknown to the brothers, she began calling on Bell for
advice. ‘It all got into an awful mess and, for a while, no-one quite
knew what was going on,’ one agency executive says.
The 1987 campaign was a bruising experience for the brothers. They soon
quit the account after becoming bitter about newspaper suggestions that
the advertising had been poor and had only been rescued by Thatcher’s
inner circle, namely Bell.
Informal contacts between the Saatchis and Conservative Central Office
only resumed after Thatcher’s departure in November 1990 - the removal
of ‘the final obstacle to reunion’, Campaign reported (1 February 1991).
Maurice quickly won the confidence of the new Prime Minister, John
The party confirmed plans to move its ad account to ‘New Saatchi’ on the
first anniversary of Maurice and Charles’s ousting from Charlotte
Maurice’s personal contribution to the Conservatives should never be
underestimated, Wight says. ‘It’s no good producing advertising if
nobody buys it.’
But perhaps the clearest plaudit came from Bell when he spoke on Radio
4’s World at One last week: ‘Maurice was very active in keeping Labour
out of power for nearly 20 years.’
More recently, he has shaped a tougher strategy, which saw ‘new danger’
replace the softer line: ‘Yes it hurt. Yes it worked.’
‘Advertising is supposed to be controversial. It is supposed to be
noticed. If it isn’t, it’s a waste of money and time,’ Bell says.
conservative general election slogans
1979 ‘Labour isn’t working’ was credited with winning Margaret Thatcher
her first general election and making the Saatchi name synonymous with
advertising to the man on the street.
1983 ‘Like your manifesto, comrade’ appeared above copies of the
Communist Party manifesto and the Labour Party manifesto.
1987 ‘Labour’s policy on arms’ depicted a British soldier surrendering.
‘Britain is great again. Don’t let Labour wreck it.’
1992 ‘Labour’s tax bombshell’ and ‘Labour’s double whammy’ were
credited with helping to win the election.
1996 ‘Yes it hurt. Yes it worked.’
‘New Labour. New danger’
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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