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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK

UK Politics

Charlie calls in the Bond Girl

Charles Kennedy: Needs to build leadership profile

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

The Scottish nationalists might have the backing of James Bond - in the shape of Sean Connery - but Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has gone one better.

He has enlisted the support of the only woman ever to get the better of Bond - Pussy Galore.

[ image: Honor Blackman: Starring in Kennedy: The Movie]
Honor Blackman: Starring in Kennedy: The Movie
Actress Honor Blackman, who played the leather-clad Bond girl in the film Goldfinger, appears in the latest Liberal Democrat party political broadcast extolling Mr Kennedy's virtues. And who would dare argue with her?

The broadcast also shows Mr Kennedy strolling in the west Highlands of Scotland, where he grew up, and includes footage of him explaining he is a "new leader for new times".

It is a highly personalised film and is bound to draw comparisons with the famous Kinnock PPB made by Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson just before the 1987 general election.

Here is Mr Kennedy attempting to implant a clear image of himself in the mind of voters and backing it up with a touch of showbiz glamour.

Unknown quantity

And it is clear that Paddy Ashdown's successor needs to engage with the public after his elevation to party leader.

He is still a relatively unknown quantity amongst most ordinary voters and will need to spend some time building a public profile - as did Mr Ashdown when he started in the job 11 years ago.

And the broadcast is clearly part of a strategy to re-cast him as party leader. The party conference in Harrogate is also being used as part of this strategy. Whether this is a good plan is another question.

Mr Kennedy is well known and well liked amongst Lib Dem members and, vitally important, with the media.

He has a genuine rapport with people and an easy, humorous manner that undoubtedly helped his leadership campaign.

But that leads to another comparison with Neil Kinnock who, before he became Labour leader, was viewed by Labour activists and the media in much the same way.

Get serious

But once the image consultants, spin doctors and special advisors got to him things started to change.

He was told to "get serious", wear dark suits, adopt a more severe haircut and - most of all - stop socialising with the press.

Many argue that, had he ignored all the advice and carried on as he always had, he would have risked being painted as a Valleys "boyo" but may have been more successful and would almost certainly been more comfortable.

And there will be great pressure on Mr Kennedy to go down a similar route - to become more distant, more serious and less impulsive.

He may well resist it but, if he listens to the siren voices, the danger is that there will be little left of the man the party members voted for in the first place.

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