Revealed: A different style of politics

We know politics should be about substance over style, but with just days to go to the General Election, Sarah Freeman asks experts in fashion, advertising and body language for their verdict on Blair, Howard and Kennedy


Mike Black, creative director of Leeds based marketing company Brahm

In past General Elections, there have been some classic campaign posters. Everyone remembers the Labour Isn't Working slogan and as for Tony Blair with his devil eyes, it's an image which sticks in the memory. However, this hasn't been a vintage year and maybe it's time for a change.


Having veered from flying pigs, to black and yellow rimmed "Warning" posters, they now make a weak attempt to knock the Tories via some emotional blackmail.

And the thrust of some of their messages, for example they have one which says the Tories allowed mortgage rates rise to 15 per cent when they were in power, is lost in the small print. Our attempt was of course slightly more tongue in cheek and is based on Ann Widdecombe's famous quote that there is something of the night about Michael Howard. Admittedly it's a bit of a cheap shot, but politics is increasingly about personalities and Labour should use this to their advantage.


Of all the parties, they have had the most cohesive campaign so far, without hitting any real high points. "Are you

thinking what we're thinking" has cleverly probed people's anxieties and voiced what many people think, but may not like to say. The hand-written headlines have also personalised the campaign and given it a distinctive look. Their latest posters, however, smack of desperation as they resort to some fairly heavy-handed knocking of Labour and Blair.

Again we decided to exploit a weakness and that was Cherie Blair, who does often take a rather unfortunate picture. Billboards are a great way of getting people's attention, but you need to ensure the image is a strong one, otherwise you won't maximise the impact.

Liberal Democrats

There are three rules for producing a great poster:

1. Keep it simple

2. Keep it simple

3. Keep it simple

And by this criteria, the Liberal Democrats We Oppose... We Propose poster fails totally. It lacks surprise, visual impact or any emotional engagement. They may be attempting to condense their whole manifesto onto a poster, but it doesn't make for effective communication. A lot of people are dissatisfied with the two main parties and the Lib Dems should make a virtue out of their position. When we remembered the line from the Stealers Wheel song it was a heaven sent idea for a poster.


Robert Phipps, body language expert.

Tony Blair:

The Salesman

He uses a lot of what we call direct fixed stares and eyebrow flashing to emphasise his points.

During the Question Time interview he was clearly very uncomfortable, uncrossing and crossing his legs. However, he is used to the spotlight and he knows how to regain control and the gestures he makes with his palms facing down and the finger pointing is his way of stamping his authority on a situation.

It's amazing how many of his toothy fixed grins you will see when he is being interviewed, which is nothing more than a stalling technique, giving him time to think of an answer. Grins aside, his body language suggests he can be both aggressive and forceful.

Michael Howard: The Headmaster

The old joke goes that you can tell when a politician is lying because they start moving their lips, but what we've seen from Howard this election campaign is a lot of big smiles and it is interesting that when facing the public his body language is very open.

When seated he often doesn't cross his legs, which is a sign he is not hiding anything or at least trying to make the public believe he is not hiding anything. However, at the same time he does exude authority.

When asked a question you will see he moves his head into his chin and looks almost over the top of his glasses, which can make the interviewer feel like they are back at school.

Like Tony Blair he uses a lot of arms gestures, particularly the one we call the fish that got away, with arms wide apart, but unlike Tony Blair his gestures are relaxed not rigid.

Charles Kennedy: Everyone's Friend

The most relaxed, but often and perhaps surprisingly, the most assertive of the three. His gestures are very inclusive and when speaking to the public he often does so with his arms open.

He is not afraid of being seen to be relaxed, walking with his hand in his pocket and unbuttoning his jacket. His body language suggests he is more than comfortable being put under the spotlight.

However, while some have dismissed him as a bit of a joker, he is in fact quite serious and uses the same palm down gestures as Blair to emphasise both his points and that he's in control of the situation. During Question Time he was the only one to use a chopping movement which shows he thinks he is cutting through the rubbish.

Only time will tell whether he has succeeded.


Richard Gray, spokesman for

Harvey Nichols

Tony Blair

He's pretty well turned out and he is seen as a bit of an ambassador for British fashion abroad. Wearing the likes of Paul Smith and Nicole Farhi, there is a whiff of an English gent about him, but you occasionally see a flash of purple silk lining and I remember a sexy 1950s kipper tie both of which are a nice touch. One area he could improve is his casual look. They really get this in America, but I remember when they introduced dress down Friday over here I've never seen so many bad black, slip-on shoes and khaki pants. If Tony Blair got his casual look right, he could turn it to his advantage by coming across as more human. Basketweave slip-on shoes, which men appear to think are fine to wear at weekends, should be banned, but a good cut pair of jeans and a polo shirt would work well. He should take a look at George Bush's casual fashion sense, which is pretty good, apart from the cowboy boots – for anyone a step too far.

Charles Kennedy

God love him, he looks like someone's dad and in a way I think that it works. He wants to come across as a man of the people so it suits him not to look too slick and polished. A lot of politicians come across as rather glossy and asexual and, like it or not, Kennedy does stand out from the crowd.

His slightly unfinished, dishevelled look has obviously been helped by the sleepless nights he's been having following the birth of his son and he is the kind of man many women would want to mother.

In truth, he's not an easy man to dress because he's quite short and does have a bit of a tummy, but I would suggest fully tailored suits or fitted jackets.

Double-breasted jackets he should avoid at all costs.

Being a redhead is difficult, but navy is a good option and Charles, a word to the wise, leave the linen suits in the wardrobe.

Michael Howard

Dresses like the QC he is. Immaculate. Of all the three party leaders, his wardrobe makes him looks the most serious and it depends on your take on politics whether this is a good or bad thing and it certainly won't guarantee he gets lots of votes.

All three are politicians first, but they are also salesmen.

They are brands which they need to get people to buy into and Howard has a real sense of occasion, you would never see him in a clashing shirt and tie.

If it's not him that's choosing his clothes, he has very good advisors.

However, he's not perfect. I have one image in my head of him wearing a Christmas jumper, which let's be honest is not a good look. If you have to wear a jumper, make sure it's a V-neck polo neck with an open shirt underneath.