Thatcher's PR guru to spin for Europe's last Soviet ruler

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What links Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus and Europe's last communist dictator, to Margaret Thatcher, McLaren Mercedes, an exiled Russian oligarch, and the Mark Warner holiday company? The answer is that Mr Lukashenko has just joined the long list of high-profile clients represented by Britain's first king of spin, the Tory peer Tim Bell.

Lord Bell, 66, came to fame in Britain in the 1970s as the man who burnished Margaret Thatcher's image in the early days when she was leader of the opposition. As managing director of the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, he was one of the brains behind the famous "Labour isn't Working" slogan.

Now his company, Chime Communications, has been hired to help soften the grim image that Belarus presents to the outside world as it clings to the Soviet way of life.

Belarus badly needs foreign investment, which it is unlikely to get from the US, where Congress has condemned the country's civil rights record. Mr Lukashenko wants the UK to step in and become his country's biggest foreign investor. Just over a week ago, he played host to a delegation of peers headed by Cecil Parkinson, who chaired the Tory party during the 1983 election. Lord Parkinson obligingly declared that he thought foreign investors could feel "secure and confident" in Belarus. At the same time, Lord Bell was in Minsk to sign a tricky but no doubt very lucrative contract. "Lukashenko would like his country to be better understood, and his successes to be better grasped," Lord Bell told The Moscow Times. "Lukashenko doesn't see why Belarus can't be a friend to the West and a friend to Russia at the same time."

It might seem like an extraordinary appointment, as Lord Bell's other clients include the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who has sworn to use his vast fortune to overthrow the current Russian government. The Kremlin used to have no ally more loyal than Mr Lukashenko.

But Chime Communications is so diverse and compartmentalised that there is hardly a product it could not promote. The company was hired to help the McLaren Mercedes racing team after it was caught last year with a file of confidential information about Ferrari. Mark Warner sent for Lord Bell to help mitigate the damage its business might suffer from the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, whose family was staying at one of its resorts in Portugal.

Bell's campaigns

Margaret Thatcher

In the 1970s, he helped convince Britain that "Labour Isn't Working" and rid Mrs Thatcher of her school-ma'am image.

Monsanto

The giant US chemical firm, which produces GM foods, suffered terrible PR before it hired Bell Pottinger in 1998.

National Coal Board

Hired by the employers' side during the 1984-85 miners' strike, Bell made effective use of an unidentified union mole.

General Pinochet

In 1999, the recently formed Chilean Reconciliation Movement paid Bell's firm £200,000 to help fight the extradition threat hanging over Pinochet.

Saudi Arabia

Angered by investigations into bribery allegations, Saudi Arabia – a Bell client – threatened to cancel a contract for Typhoon jets from BAE, another Bell client.

Alexander Litvinenko

As the bizarre story of Mr Litvinenko's murder unfolded, the dead man's friends and inquiring journalists were greatly helped by information passed on by Bell.

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