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Friday, November 13, 1998 Published at 23:47 GMT

UK Politics

What's in a name?

In the turbulent world of today's Tory Party, is nothing sacred?

First came Ikea chairs on the conference platform, now Britain's very own Grand Old Party is throwing itself headlong into an image rethink that could even end with a new name.

Next week sees the inaugural meeting of the Conservatives' Creative Forum - a team of media-savvy professionals including an unnamed former Radio 1 DJ - whose brief will be to re-brand the Conservative Party.

It's no mean task when you consider what they are up against.

The Tories have always prided themselves on the values of tradition and establishment - words that do not sit well alongside the ideals of radical marketing makeovers.

[ image: Ikea chairs at this year's Tory conference]
Ikea chairs at this year's Tory conference
Until now, phrases such as "corporate identity" and "brand audit" have been the sole domain of Labour, which subtly slipped in its "New" prefix during Tony Blair's 1990s image revamp.

But these are difficult times for Her Majesty's Opposition. Having last year suffered the worst election defeat of the century, William Hague is going all out to show voters he means business.

His critics, however, say it is nothing more than a hollow revamp. Scratch beneath the surface they say, and nothing has changed.

While a complete name-change has not been ruled out by Mr Hague, a less-controversial option would be to take a leaf out of Labour's book and add a prefix or suffix to the party name. Words such as "modern", "progressive" and "free" have all been mooted.

Torch cast in darkness?

Then there is the question of whether to change the party's "torch of freedom" logo and whether to embellish its colour palette which, at the moment, consists exclusively of regal blue.

The merits of green, turquoise and purple are all expected to be discussed.

However, Paul Morgan, of London-based brand consultants The Brand Development Company, urges caution.

[ image: The torch logo: Very
The torch logo: Very "Rule Britannia" says Paul Morgan
Brand names command a value all of their own which takes years to establish and nurture. The value of the brand name Marlboro has been put at 27bn.

"Clients spend enormous amounts spending finding names for products," says Mr Morgan. "Awareness of the name Conservative is extremely high and you would pay millions for that."

Dropping it for a new "brand name" would be a disaster, he says.

He is less sentimental about the torch logo, which is very "Rule Britannia" and suggests something more modern that promotes the theme of "communication across frontiers". A modem perhaps?

The problem, he says, is that although re-branding can boost a product, it's the "same old Tories" beneath the surface.

He's not alone. Bill Jones, chief executive of Lexis Communications Group, likens a Conservative re-branding to "a fresh coat of paint over a damp wall".

[ image: Blue is the colour, of the Conservatives and Mrs Thatcher's frocks]
Blue is the colour, of the Conservatives and Mrs Thatcher's frocks
"It's not the image that communicates, it's the product. What the Conservatives have got to do is get their product right," he says. Splits over Europe and a lack of political conviction are two of the main issues that must be resolved.

"New Labour was not simply the launch of a new corporate identity, Labour showed it could think differently - it actually had a strategy."

He suspects the Mr Hague and his colleagues are trying to put the cart before the horse - hoping an image change will itself "spur change".

Positive associations exist

David Anderson, of Callcott Anderson Brand Design, also thinks more work has to be done on an underlying change.

Mr Anderson too is against radical change, pointing out that beneath all the scepticism, voters still have positive associations with the party.

"Conservative stands for continuity, dependability, conservatism. To change the name undermines all that," he says.

And he warns the Creative Forum not to abandon the colour blue, which has "associations with heritage, blue blood and Margaret Thatcher's frocks".

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