PM 'weak', warns Tory guru

The Conservative election campaign suffered an embarrassing set- back last night after revelations that one of the Prime Minister's top advertising men has privately described him as the Tories' "weakness", writes Stephen Castle.

Steve Hilton, an executive with M&C Saatchi and a leading force in Conservative campaigning, made the comments to a politics student. Mr Hilton is quoted as saying: "Major is undoubtedly our weakness. I expect Labour will go for Major in a big way portraying him as a wimp".

He added: "Private polling is a myth about the Conservatives. We often lie ... because it's private no one knows anyway".

Mr Hilton is known to be on the right of the Tory Party and took part in John Redwood's challenge against the Premier.

Last night he said said he has "no recollection of this three-year-old private conversation". Ironically he cited the party's polling which, he argued, shows "that the prime Minister is trusted and respected for his leadership while Tony Blair is widely seen as a phoney untrustworthy charlatan".