Editorial: Tories unlikely to take ad agenda into government

It's hard to avoid a wry smile at the Conservative shadow cabinet member Francis Maude's tirade against the Government's spiralling ad expenditure.

Maude is a classic example of how your view of advertising can change depending on your observation point. That's certainly true of his party, whose latest pop at the Government's adspend - £800 million over the past five years - is the equivalent of picking low-hanging fruit.

It's easy to make a fuss about government-funded advertising when you're in opposition. Not least because of the implication that taxpayers' money is being wasted to further the political agenda of the party in power.

However, if history is a judge, opposition parties tend to undergo Pauline conversions about the amount of advertising they should be doing after winning a general election.

Campaigns such as those that help reduce smoking and the number of road deaths will always get the financial underpinning because they have been proved to work and, as a result, ease the pressure on an overstretched NHS.

But any government-in-waiting usually has a radical programme of reform that it will be eager to communicate. There's nothing to suggest the Tories will be any different.

Meanwhile, the party has undoubtedly been saved future embarrassment with the rejection of its demand that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should draw up a new code for government advertising.

The Tories' insinuation seems to be that a significant amount of government communication is politically loaded and that clear demarcation lines must be drawn. This is far easier said than done, mainly because almost any message involving contentious subjects such as health spending or education has political connotations.

Maybe the Tories should heed the proverb warning you to be careful what you wish for - because you may get it.

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