Cameron: the hard sell

The Tory leader's habit of name-dropping brands associated with his friends is raising eyebrows
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Indy Politics

As a former PR man and lobbyist, David Cameron knows all about the importance of brand image. From his Converse trainers to his edgy taste in music, he has tried to present himself as an Everyman since becoming Tory leader.

But now, the Eton- and Oxford-educated politician's habit of name-dropping is starting to raise a few eyebrows.

In this month's GQ magazine, he gives his views on a man's handbag being developed by luxury goods company Smythson. The company's creative director is Samantha Cameron, Mr Cameron's aristocratic wife. While confessing that he tends to "stuff everything in my pockets", the Tory leader can't resist gushing that Smythson has "many extremely fine products that I could recommend to all readers of GQ".

This is the latest in a series of what advertising experts say are artful attempts at product placement. Others include plugs for Isle of Jura malt whisky made by Whyte & Mackay, co-owned by Robert Tchenguiz, a property tycoon and Tory donor, and for The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The author is a fellow Old Etonian and a contemporary at Oxford whose cousin, Sarah, is married to Mr Cameron's brother, Alexander.

Mr Cameron and the Conservatives receive more than £2m in donations from Johan Eliasch, who owns sportswear company Head and is deputy treasurer of the Tory party. A keen tennis player, Mr Cameron is understood to receive free rackets from Mr Eliasch specially shipped from Austria.

What is also significant are the products that the Tory leader chooses not to plug. Last month, Mr Cameron complained that the Little Miss Naughty clothing line by Bhs, which was withdrawn in 2003, sexualised children, but he omitted to mention Next, which produced pre-school T-shirts that carried the slogan "So Many Boys, So Little Time" and which also were withdrawn after criticism. Simon Wolfson, Next's chief executive, endorsed Mr Cameron's leadership campaign and, according to the register of members' interests, has made personal donations to Mr Cameron's office.

Nike and Sky are also clients of the PR consultancy Good Business, founded by Steve Hilton, Mr Cameron's policy adviser.

The creation of "brand Cameron" is something the Tory party has sweated over for months. George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, this month revealed how seriously the party takes the crafting of its leader. In an interview with Credit Today, he says: "Just creating the positive image of David Cameron as a relaxed family chap who enjoys cycling has taken months of effort. You'd be amazed how much time has to be spent on creating simple images for the media and then the voting public."

Mr Cameron's press spokesman said: "There is no deliberate plugging agenda. But he believes that politicians should speak up if they think something is wrong, and also if it's right in the case of Nike."


NEXT T-SHIRT Though he criticised Bhs over its 'harmful and creepy' Little Miss Naughty range of children's clothes, he did not mention Next's pre-school 'So Many Boys, So Little Time' T-shirt. Simon Wolfson, Next chief executive, is a long-standing financial supporter.

ISLE OF JURA MALT WHISKY Cameron's drink of choice was broadcast on Desert Island Discs on Radio 4. Robert Tchenguiz, co-owner of the Whyte & Mackay distillery, is a major Tory donor.

SKY TV Cameron described Sky as having one of the 'best social responsibility programmes'. Martin Le Jeune, Sky's head of public affairs, backed Cameron in the leadership campaign.

SMYTHSON MAN-BAG In GQ, Cameron describes Smythson of Bond Street as 'having many extremely fine products'. His wife Samantha is creative director and has developed a man-bag now in production.

RIVER COTTAGE COOKBOOK Also on Desert Island Discs, he enthused about The River Cottage Cookbook. Its author's cousin is married to Cameron's brother.

NIKE CAP Cameron spoke in glowing terms of Nike's community-friendly business practices 'helping kids into sports and things like that'. Steve Hilton, his marketing guru, founded a PR firm that has worked for Nike.