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Should the Conservative Party be spending time courting celebrity endorsements?

DSC06448 The Times today suggests that the Conservative Party's director of communications, Andy Coulson, is spearheading an operation to court celebrity endorsements ahead of the general election, with all frontbenchers being instructed to inform him of potential supporters:

"The most promising targets are usually invited to dinner with Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Culture Secretary, with “A-listers” offered the chance to meet Mr Cameron himself... While potential donors are typically introduced to the Tory leader in a Mayfair restaurant, the celebrity dinners are held in private houses, according to one of those involved in their organisation."

"The explanation for the priority given to recruiting stars of light entertainment is revealed by research, available to all three parties, showing which social groups are most likely to switch their vote from Labour to Conservatives. The biggest group — identified by the Mosaic household profiling database, which uses credit data from its parent company, Experian — are single people and young couples living in new homes. They are also more than usually influenced by celebrity culture."

But the paper notes elsewhere that celebrities are increasingly spurning efforts from all parties to deliver public statements of support.

A couple of years ago I persuaded Frank Lampard to speak publicly about his backing for the Conservatives, but there have not recently been many new names from the worlds of sport and showbiz to add to the staple list of well-known Tory supporters such as Peter Stringfellow and Tony Hadley.

Another long-standing backer who has been there through thick and thin is Coronation Street's Bill Roache, who is pictured above with Eric Pickles at this year's party conference in Manchester.

But clearly the race is on to get new, dare I say it "cooler", celebrity supporters in advance of next year's general election.

Yet there is of course a danger in seeking new backers at this stage, when they are more likely simply to be fair weather friends. It's all very well securing endorsements from well known names when the party's star is in the ascendant, but it means that any criticism they might later make if things aren't looking so rosy becomes all the more toxic.

New Labour got its fingers burnt with its "Cool Britannia" efforts: Oasis et al were all feted at Number Ten in the summer of 1997, but things later turned sour for Labour when many of their showbiz backers fell our of love with Tony Blair.

And, as the Times editorial notes, it works both ways:

"An invitation to No 10 is no longer a big enough prize for celebrities to risk tainting their brand. Why risk alienating half your audience by anointing one party when you get more kudos by joining the fight against poverty or climate change?"

So whilst celebrity endorsements provide a quick, easy and helpful headline in the short-term, I would suggest that their long term value is rather less significant - and that seeking them probably shouldn't be the party's greatest priority right now.

Jonathan Isaby


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