Over-selling a brand is ridiculous: the buying public is not stupid
As a veteran of only three years as an MP for Putney, I am still often asked what I did before I entered the House of Commons. "A businessman," I answer. "Ah, an accountant," they say. No, a marketer. So how did a lend up becoming an MP?
When I left university it was to join Unilever and a long defunct produce called Treetop - a squash drink launched by Van den Bergh in 1964. But I soon found myself in Kenya marketing over-the-counter goods and was subsequently merchandise-controlling non-foods in Kingsway Stores in Nigeria. The Biafran War was not to my liking, so I moved back to the UK, and, with Ralph Halpern, I set up Top Shop in 1969.
Top Shop was a marketing man's dream: a retail product that year by year altered chameleon-like in its decor and day by day changed the clothes on sale, to mirror and influence its buying public. We went through five complete changes of decor in the 70s. Top Man, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Principles, Champion Sport and Debenhams followed, all of them marketing-led.
In 1991 I became leader of Merton Council. After reformulating the brand - sorry, improving the services of the council with help from fellow councillors and staff - I launched Merton Moving Ahead, with a symbolic water wheel relating to the history of the River Wandle and the suffragette movement. The colours were green and purple.
So onto 1997 and the landslide election. Was New Labour all marketing hype? And more to the point, has the government delivered on the core values of the 'brand'? …