Boss of ad agency that helped Thatcher win attacks ‘cruel’ Tories – and says Starmer will be PM

The advertising giant that helped to put Margaret Thatcher in power has attacked the “cruelty” of the Conservatives and predicted a Labour victory at the general election.

The strategy chief at Saatchi & Saatchi – the agency behind the “Labour isn’t working” ads prior to the 1979 landslide – says Britain needs saving from “five more years of stagnation, cruelty and despair”.

Writing for The Independent, Richard Huntington condemns Tory “divisiveness” – but also insists that Sir Keir Starmer still has to prove he can be an effective leader like Thatcher.

The intervention by the Saatchi & Saatchi chief represents the latest blow for Rishi Sunak’s party after Conservative grandee Kenneth Clarke threw his weight behind Rachel Reeves as chancellor following a ringing endorsement from former Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

It comes as a new poll suggests Keir Starmer is on course for a landslide general election victory bigger than that secured by Sir Tony Blair’s in 1997.

The Labour leader would become prime minister with a 212-seat majority if an election were held tomorrow, according to the Survation surgvey on behalf of the UK Spirits Alliance.

Despite the desertion of top Tory donors as big business turns to Labour, Mr Huntington says Sir Keir still has to overcome deep public pessimism and “overturn the idea that government of any stripe is ineffective”.

“Whether you loved or hated her, Margaret Thatcher was the embodiment of effective government,” writes the ad guru, challenging Sir Keir to show how both main parties have been able to change things for the better over the decades.

‘Labour Isn’t Working’ was an advertising campaign run by Saatchi & Saatchi for the Tories in 1978 (No Name)
‘Labour Isn’t Working’ was an advertising campaign run by Saatchi & Saatchi for the Tories in 1978 (No Name)

He adds that, with “a generation of voters only knowing 15 years of national regression”, Labour is “almost certain to win the next election”.

Mr Huntington writes: “He [Starmer] will need to show humility and champion effective government.”

The intervention represents another coup for Sir Keir and shadow chancellor Ms Reeves as they continue their efforts to reassure business chiefs that they are ready to govern.

The renowned advertising firm had been closely tied with the Conservatives after helping deliver three successive electoral victories for Thatcher – though the party later moved to the breakaway M&C Saatchi.

Mr Huntington said that while Labour was set to be the biggest party, there was still a question over whether Sir Keir “can pull off a majority or even a landslide” unless he creates real public enthusiasm for his party.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s chief strategy officer said the crucial difference between Tony Blair’s landslide in 1997 and today was cynicism about “the idea of effective government”.

He wrote: “In 1997, people believed that the UK government could deliver. In 2023, they don’t believe that any government has the power to make the slightest bit of difference.”

Saatchi & Saatchi, which previously ran a series of anti-Labour ads,  is now backing Keir Starmer (The Advertising Archives)
Saatchi & Saatchi, which previously ran a series of anti-Labour ads, is now backing Keir Starmer (The Advertising Archives)

Mr Huntington said that while the Tories “scrap for votes through a deliberate strategy of divisiveness ... Labour could spend the next year restoring British people’s belief in the basic concept of effective government”.

He said a new generation of voters has only known “15 years of national regression since the global financial crisis” – calling on Sir Keir to champion “real-world examples of effective government from across the political spectrum”.

He added: “Because, while we desperately need saving from five more years of stagnation, cruelty and despair, there is a far bigger prize at hand: the restoration of effective government and, with it, faith in our democracy itself.”

Frozen food chain Iceland’s executive chair, Richard Walker, became the latest Tory donor to withdraw his support last month, saying he was “open” to supporting Sir Keir, while Phones4U founder John Caudwell said he would not back the Tories after the “madness” of Mr Sunak’s U-turn on net zero – and that he was thinking of giving to Labour instead.

Another Tory donor, Philip Harris, founder of Carpetright, said the Conservative Party did not “deserve” to win the 2024 general election.