Row over ad costs could see Tories end M&C Saatchi relationship

LONDON - The Conservative Party may cut its ties with Lord Maurice Saatchi and his agency M&C Saatchi following a row over multimillion-pound payments made for work in the run-up to the May general election.

According to The Times, three unnamed members of the Tory's board are opposed to renewing the contract with M&C Saatchi, which comes to an end this month. Instead, they plan to urge the new party leader, who will be elected later this year, to find a new ad agency partner to handle its advertising.

The row broke out last week after it was revealed that M&C Saatchi had invoiced the Tories for £2.4m this year.

In response to the criticism, M&C Saatchi founder Lord Saatchi has pointed out that he had worked for the party on a volunteer basis with no expenses or fees for 18 months.

Also of concern is Lord Saatchi's comments about the Tory's advertising, drawing accusations that he has been disloyal. He had been keen to make it clear that even though he had the title of chairman, he played no part in briefings concerning advertising after leader Michael Howard appointed Australian pollster Lynton Crosby as campaigns director last October.

He said last week that he had wanted to change his title to non-executive chairman to reflect the position, but the move was rejected.

"Ironically, I first saw many of the party's advertisements and party political broadcasts when they appeared in the media," he said.

The Times quotes a source saying: "Maurice has brought this on himself. He has jeopardised his agency's chances of winning back the contract. Loyalty is an important political commodity. Michael Howard is a loyal man and his loyalty was not repaid."

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