Brown-Cameron image duel
LONDON, (Reuters) - In a media age where image is a vote winner, Britain's leader in-waiting Gordon Brown and Conservative rival David Cameron could not be more different — but the political foes share a common heritage.
Genealogists discovered that Brown, a clergyman's son, and Cameron, a stockbroker's son, both had great-grand parents who worked as Scottish farmers. And they even share the same tailor.
But there the similarities end as the two battle to win over Middle England — the crucial centre ground of British politics where the next election will be won.
Brown, 56, was assured of becoming Britain's next prime minister without a vote after his only rival, left-winger John McDonnell, conceded defeat on Wednesday.
At the next election, due by 2010 at the latest, he is likely to face Cameron, who is fighting to bring the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher out of the wilderness.
Blair's finance minister has earned his spurs for his stewardship of a thriving economy but is seen as an aloof intellectual who lacks the common touch and charm that helped Blair win over the electorate three times.
Cameron, 40, is a child of privilege from Britain's elite but he has been nurturing the image of a man who cycles to work, washes the dishes and knows the needs of ordinary families. "Politicians and pundits underestimate the importance of image. Image makes up about 60 percent of the determinants for the floating voter and 40 percent is about issues," said MORI pollster Robert Worcester.
"People don't like leaders who talk down to them. I think both Cameron and Brown suffer from that — one from class and one from intelligence," he told Reuters.
Age and experience against youth and novelty. That is the choice.
Both invited journalists into their homes and have spoken movingly about personal adversity: Cameron has a son with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, Brown's daughter died after 10 days and one of his two sons has cystic fibrosis.
Brown recently cast aside years of reserve to reveal a more human side, shedding a tear during a television interview as he talked about the loss of his child.
He has also sought to benefit from his serious reputation by belittling Britain's glib, celebrity culture — trying to distinguish himself from former public relations man Cameron and the telegenic Blair.
"I do not believe politics is about celebrity," said Brown, when launching his leadership campaign. "I have never believed that presentation can be a substitute for policy."
Cameron, 40, is admired as an effective communicator but waverers still await solid policy initiatives before the next election.
An urbane and self-confident product of Britain's most exclusive private school Eton, Cameron insists "character is far more important than policy".
"I am distrustful of the grand plan. It's not me," says Cameron in a far cry from the conviction politics of Margaret Thatcher who changed Britain and kept Blair's Labour party out of power for 18 years.
So who is winning the branding war?
For Max Clifford, Britain's leading public relations guru, the jury is still out.
"Most of the Conservatives I know see Cameron as someone who is inventing himself as he goes along. With Thatcher you knew what you were getting," he told Reuters. "Gordon Brown is certainly not someone you warm to from a personality point of view. But in most people's eyes he has been a success."
Simon Myers of the Figtree branding agency, whose clients range from auctioneers Sotheby's to mobile phone giant Orange, believes Cameron is making the right noises but needs to deliver a tighter message as the next election nears.
As for Brown: "Don't do stuff out of character. I cringed when I heard he was listening to the Arctic Monkeys on his iPod.
"The trouble is he has had 10 years of success. It is very hard for a brand consultant to advise someone who thinks they are tremendously successful. They don't want to listen."