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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK

UK Politics

Cover blown on 'Project Hague'

The Hagues cool down at the 1997 Notting Hill Carnival

Leaked plans to boost William Hague's public image through a series of photo opportunities have been met with derision by his political foes.

The leaked memo outlining "Project Hague" reveals proposals to depict the Tory leader as a man firmly grounded in his Yorkshire roots, with close ties to his family and a liking for judo and abseiling.

The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti reports 'another new image for Hague'
But Labour and the Liberal Democrats have responded by saying Mr Hague would be better advised to work on his policies rather than his image.

Lib Dem campaigns chief Nick Harvey said: "The Tories are trying to relaunch a sinking ship."

The memo - said to be the brainchild of the new Tory publicity adviser Amanda Platell - includes plans for:

  • A holiday photograph of Mr Hague and his wife Ffion, perhaps an "evening walk on a beach"
  • A "tactile, happy shot" of the Tory leader on a family outing with his nieces
  • A picture showing him looking "relaxed and confident" before the October party conference
  • Mr Hague to visit a local agricultural show with his parents, and a return to his old school near Rotherham to emphasise that he attended a comprehensive school.
  • Photographing Mr Hague practising judo with the Army, although it rules out pictures of an actual bout
  • Many of the proposed photo-opportunities would show Mr Hague in casual dress, reflecting a desire to banish perceptions of him as a suit-wearing "nerd" obsessed with politics.

The Hagues visit the 1997 Notting Hill carnival
"Project Hague" follows the Hagues' much-publicised 1997 visit to the Notting Hill Carnival.

On another occasion the Tory leader wore a baseball cap on a trip to a theme park in an attempt to project a more youthful, down-to-earth image.

'Tories in for a shock'

But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: "The news that William Hague's image is to be relaunched yet again by his wife and his chief spin doctor would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

[ image: Man of the people]
Man of the people
"I wish him a good holiday, but if his advisers think that pictures of him abseiling or walking in the sunset will be the answer to their problems, they're in for a shock.

"The problem for the Tories is not one of image, it's one of substance. It's not William Hague that's unpopular, it's Conservative policies.

Mr Harvey added: "All the baseball caps in the world can't hide the fact that William Hague's Tory Party is divided and out of touch with the British people."

Clifford cautions Hague

Publicity guru Max Clifford, himself a Labour supporter, warned Mr Hague against trying to rebrand himself and advised him to try and concentrate on "a long-term project to give him stature".

"The public does not like the approach of creating an image," he said.

"Giving him stature is a long-term project.

"Anything he does will become a fabrication. It's like the Queen having tea in Glasgow - everyone knows the Royal Family is trying to change its image."

Mr Clifford suggested Mr Hague align himself with a popular campaign such as the drive to erect a statue to the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Tory leader should also praise Tony Blair sometimes, Mr Clifford said.

"He comes across as the head prefect, never the headmaster. He should try to be more gracious and congratulate Blair when he gets things right."

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