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ANDREW PIERCE: Can lessons of Mrs Thatcher’s ad guru save Labour?

Under intense pressure to get a grip after his party’s abysmal performance in the Hartlepool by-election and local elections, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is seeking tried-and-tested talent.

A new key appointee is Deborah Mattinson as director of strategy. Supporters point to her work as pollster and strategist for former Labour leaders including Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Few, however, know that Mattinson honed her political expertise in subsequent years in a very different environment — at the feet of Tim Bell, the ad man and PR guru who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s three election victories. Bell, who died in 2019, was one of Lady T’s closest advisers and confidantes. 

Under intense pressure to get a grip after his party’s abysmal performance in the Hartlepool by-election and local elections, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is seeking tried-and-tested talent 

His company, Chime Communications, bought Mattinson’s firm, Opinion Leader Research, in 1998 and she stayed on to run Chime Research for 12 years. Her specialism? Focus groups.

Few, however, know that Mattinson honed her political expertise in subsequent years in a very different environment — at the feet of Tim Bell, the ad man and PR guru who masterminded Margaret Thatcher's three election victories

Few, however, know that Mattinson honed her political expertise in subsequent years in a very different environment — at the feet of Tim Bell, the ad man and PR guru who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s three election victories

One former Chime executive told me: ‘If Deborah ever thought there was an issue for one of our clients, she always had an answer: ‘Let’s focus group it.’ If it was a bigger problem, she had a more novel approach. ‘Let’s do a bigger focus group.’ ‘

Perhaps Ms Mattinson’s first focus group might tackle the big question currently preoccupying Labour MPs and party members: how long before deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, whom Starmer sacked as party chairman last week in a botched reshuffle, makes a bid to replace her boss?

Izzard is aiming for a safe seat 

And as if Starmer hasn’t got enough on his plate, the actor Eddie Izzard (who has asked to be referred to as she or her) is putting her career on hold to devote her energies to becoming an MP in a safe Labour seat. 

The comedian spent £36,000 — including £22,000 on transport and food — in her doomed nationwide campaign to stop Brexit.

An avowed republican, Izzard also campaigned unsuccessfully to change the ‘first past the post’ voting system to the Alternative Vote (AV) in the 2011 referendum.

ANDREW PIERCE: Can lessons of Mrs Thatcher's ad guru save Labour?

Ruth insures a Royal future

Only days after bowing out of Scottish politics, Ruth Davidson, who is taking a seat in the House of Lords, has landed a plum post as non-executive director with insurance company Royal London.

Let’s hope the appointment is more successful than the £50,000-per-year job she took with London-based PR firm Tulchan, run by former Tory chairman Lord Feldman. 

Davidson withdrew after only three days last October because of the uproar caused by a serving member of the Scottish Parliament becoming a paid lobbyist.

ITV political editor Robert Peston mourns the final closure of Debenhams’ stores at the weekend. 

‘I am sure Madam would like the matching handbag and hat and don’t forget the all-important shoe trees.’ 

It was my sales patter in Debenhams shoe department every university vacation. It didn’t work very often. And today the very last stores close.’

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden enjoyed last week’s Brit Awards. A win for Little Mix in the Best Group category — the first for an all-female band — prompted the tweet: ‘It’s about time,’ with a clap emoji.

Mysteriously his tweeting ceased when the night’s big winner, Dua Lipa, who won Best British Album and British Female Solo Artist, called on the Government to give nurses a big pay rise.

Former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage joins the growing chorus of criticism of the Duke of Sussex.

In his latest podcast outpouring in which he whinged about his ‘genetic pain’ over poor royal parenting, Harry also appeared to lay into the protections that exist under the U.S. Constitution for freedom of the Press (while admitting he didn’t really understand them).

‘For Prince Harry to condemn the USA’s First Amendment shows he has lost the plot,’ says Farage. ‘Soon he will not be wanted on either side of the pond.’

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