Tories' tearful lion is retired in disgrace

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Michael Heseltine yesterday showed complete contempt for his colleague John Redwood, suggesting that he was not a serious party figure.

The former Cabinet minister, who challenged John Major for the party leadership last year, criticised the lack of clear command over the Conservative election campaign. But when his views were put to the Deputy Prime Minister during BBC1's On the Record programme yesterday, Mr Heseltine asked who had made the criticism.

Told that the attack had been delivered by Mr Redwood, the Deputy Prime Minister laughed, spluttered and excused his "cough". Told again that Mr Redwood had made the criticism, Mr Heseltine said: "Let's keep on serious politics."

Earlier, Brian Mawhinney, the party Chairman, had insisted on Frost on Sunday: "I'm in charge." He said: "I'm in charge of the Conservative election strategy and performance ... I'm also smarter than sometimes the media gives me credit. I recognise Michael Heseltine as a great asset and so we're going to be working very closely together."

Mr Heseltine said the Prime Minister was "totally in charge" of the overall determination to win. Dr Mawhinney is chairman of the party and therefore has responsibility for the campaign, he said.

"I help the Prime Minister and Brian Mawhinney. There is not a sliver of cigarette paper between us and no matter how hard the journalists try to prise us apart, they will fail because the reality is that we work extremely closely.

"We know what each other's jobs are and we respect that position. Brian Mawhinney is in charge of the Conservative campaign and will remain there until polling day, when he will be the party chairman that delivered the fifth Conservative election victory."

One of Dr Mawhinney's backbench critics said last night: "And if we lose, he will be the man who delivered our first defeat since 1979."

The split in Tory ranks was highlighted by Dr Mawhinney's announcement that he was scrapping the party's advertising campaign using a lion shedding a red tear. The image, created by Maurice Saatchi, the Tories' advertising specialist, was meant to symbolise fears of a new Labour government's pro-European stance.

Senior Tories were reported to have been dismayed that the advertisement failed to roar the party's message to the electorate and boost its image by raising doubts over Labour. The campaign lost a good deal of steam when it emerged that the lion, far from representing a brave spirit of the British electorate, was in fact a rather placid beast.

Two experienced advertising directors strongly criticised the lion advertisements yesterday, saying they were "pathetic". Ken Dampier, of Dampier Communications, who used to produce advertising campaigns for the Central Office of Information, said he thought the lion was one of the worst campaigns he had seen in 25 years in the business.

"The idea that because there's a change of political party in power that in some way will leave the British lion shedding tears is pathetic. Frankly, it's beyond contempt," he said.

Len Weinreich, a former creative director of Burkitt, Weinreich and Bryant, said any campaign for the Conservatives now was a lost cause.

"The lion image is bizarre. Adverts cannot change a trend, they can only promote a growing brand," he said. "The Conservatives are not a fashionable brand. It's like trying to sell a cheap pair of jeans when people really want Levi's. Levi's is new Labour and there is very little the Tories can do to solve that.

"If they put the Spice Girls naked on a poster with a caption saying `Vote Tory, we do', it still wouldn't make any difference."

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