Dear Tony, Don't you worry about being too smarmy. Bill had the same problem...

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Indy Politics
President Clinton's advisers have already drawn up a strategy for Tony Blair in the run-up to the election, designed to deal with the perception that the Labour leader is too packaged and comes from a privileged background.

With George Stephanopolous, one of the American President's closest aides, set to travel to Britain to talk to Labour's election team, secret memos drawn up for Mr Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign provide a striking insight into American thinking.

Some of the supposed problems faced by Mr Blair before the general election are uncannily similar to those that faced Mr Clinton as he prepared to take on George Bush after winning the Democratic nomination. A report called the Manhattan Project listed his team's conclusions from research with small groups of floating voters:

"1. Clinton is not real. He is packaged.

2. Clinton is privileged, like the Kennedys.

3. Clinton cannot stand up to the special interests.

4. Clinton cannot be the candidate of change.

5. Clinton is for himself, not for people.

6. Clinton's message-ideas are discounted."

The findings echo those of Labour's private polls, which identified some of the reasons older women in particular were sceptical about Mr Blair. He is thought to be smarmy, too smooth and even too much like an American political candidate. His privileged background and the rows over his and Harriet Harman's choice of school, reinforced perceptions that he "says one thing and does another".

The Manhattan Project document said: "The core problem of the Clinton candidacy is Clinton's essential 'political' nature." It recommended a "fundamental rethinking of your campaign", and concluded: "The campaign has to take radical steps to depoliticise Bill Clinton." In another memo, Mandy Grunwald, a 1992 Clinton team member who visited Mr Blair at the time of his election to the Labour leadership, argued that "moments of passion, personal reflection and humor do more for us than any six-second sound-bite on the national news".

Mr Clinton's advertisements recalled the moments when, at the age of 15, he stood up to his drunken stepfather and when the candidate fought back on a television talk show against sexual allegations, winning cheers from the studio audience by accusing the host of being "responsible for the cynicism in this country", adding, "You don't want to talk about the real issues."

On this side of the Atlantic, Mr Blair departed from the text of his Blackpool conference speech last month to recall the moment when he was 11 and his father suffered a stroke which deprived him of the power of speech for three years. The experience had taught him the value of the family, he said. "I don't pretend to you that I had a deprived childhood: I didn't, but I learnt a sense of values in my childhood."

Although the similarities between the Clinton and Blair strategies are largely coincidental, the close contacts between the two camps mean that there is much common thinking.

The Clinton memos, revealed in Martin Walker's book The President They Deserve, include Ms Grunwald's argument that, "in tandem with our high- road, serious speech effort, we ought to design a parallel track of pop culture national and local media efforts". This is similar to the approach pursued by Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary, of selling the "real" Mr Blair to the tabloid press and popular broadcasters.