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

slogan.’



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

communications strategy.’’



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

discourage it.’



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

Charles.



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

Major.



The party confirmed plans to move its ad account to ‘New Saatchi’ on the

first anniversary of Maurice and Charles’s ousting from Charlotte

Street.



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.

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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’

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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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