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Tories turn to Bell Pottinger for successor to Platell

LONDON - The Conservative Party has named Bell Pottinger executive Paul Baverstock as its new communications director, more than a year after Amanda Platell left the party.

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Baverstock joins from the agency Bell Pottinger Communications, where he was chief operating officer, a role he was promoted to in April 2001 from the position of managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. His official title at the Conservative Party is director of strategic communications and he joins in January next year.

Of any agency, Bell Pottinger is the one most closely associated with the Tories because of the role of its founder Lord Bell in advising former prime minister Margaret Thatcher on public relations during the 1980s.

However, Bell Pottinger Communications also has links with Labour. Former Labour media strategist David Hill is a director at Good Relations, also part of Chime Communications.

Amanda Platell, the former editor of the Sunday Express, was director of communications to the former Tory leader William Hague and left after the party's catastrophic 2001 election defeat. Since Platell's exit there have been few wanting to take on such a challenging role. Other names to have been mentioned in connection with the position include Kevin Bell, managing director of the lobbying outfit GPC.

In the current political climate, with Tory infighting at a frenzied peak, Baverstock now has the uneviable job of trying to position the Tories as a viable alternative to Labour.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Baverstock had a "brilliant track record" in communications. "I believe he will make a major contribution towards helping the Conservative Party in our goal of winning the next election," he said.

The party was not helped by Duncan Smith's recent "unite or die" speech, which only added to press speculation about dissent within the party. Earlier this week, Tory grandee Lord Heseltine, owner of Brand Republic publisher Haymarket Publishing, called for the party to dump Duncan Smith and replace him with Kenneth Clarke.

A recent poll conducted by ICM for the Sunday Telegraph said that only 25% of all voters feel that Duncan Smith is doing an effective job.

Baverstock is a member of the Conservative Party and stood unsuccessfully as the candidate for Huddersfield in the 2001 general election.

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