Tories: Time to rebrand

Branding is everything - substance is nothing. Apparently.

According to a recent report, the Conservative party is set to ditch the torch logo that it has used, in one form or another, since 1987 - longer if you include its previous blobby incarnation.

It seems that, graphically speaking, the torch is about as alluring as a pair of George Soros's braces after Black Wednesday.

I would like to keep my snide remarks to a minimum here as I have already commented on the issue elsewhere. Damn it, though, it's just too hard to shut up...

Branding is a fine thing, I suppose. It keeps plenty of people in work and is occasionally genuinely creative. Even in politics there is a need for clear and consistent branding. Ideally what is required is something that expresses the desires of the party's electoral base. Hence the Tory torch was a patrician symbol for guiding the nation as well as lighting the way for privatisation. Labour, meanwhile, traditionally made use of the red flag, the symbol of the blood of the workers, though the class war aesthetic was toned down a bit in the 80s and the flag replaced by a red carnation. (I'll leave it up to the reader to decypher why yellow is the chosen colour of liberal parties.)

Now, having spent the better part of what seems like 2,000 years in the wilderness, the Tories seem to think that a quick coat of paint is all that is required to get them re-elected.

Sadly, they could be right.

Many years ago I wrote that the Conservative party would never regain power in the UK. I still stand by those remarks today. Even at the time, I qualified them by saying that should they ever actually get elected again, it would be the Conservative party of Margaret Thatcher in name only, in precisely the same way that today's Labour party bears no relation to that of Clement Atlee.

In 1994, when Tony Blair went around with his magic electoral marker scribbling the word "new" on the Labour party's propaganda, all he was doing was refilling Neil Kinnock's wineskins. The rosé wine favoured by Blair and co. was not much different from that sipped by his Welsh predecessor. "New" Labour wasn't really new at all. All of the significant changes bar one (the removal of Clause IV) had already occured under Kinnock - shortly after the party's worst ever election defeat in 1983. This included a major overhaul of the party's graphics.

After Michael Foot's humiliating tenure as leader, the party - or at least Peter Mandelson - was aware that the party needed a major makeover. Hence, it was under Kinnock's watch that Labour ditched the red flag and replaced it with the red carnation, signalling that the party was willing to do business with... business.

The same thing is occurring today with the Tories. David "Call-me-Dave" Cameron has realised that the logo associated with his party is the unacceptable face of baby-eating and that the party's last election result, widely hailed as a come-back in the press, was nothing short of a total meltdown. Michael Howard won 11 fewer seats in 2005 than Labour did during its darkest hour in 1983.

In the absence of any policies - and a quick look at the Conservative party website, as of June 12, 2006, shows no new policies* since Michael Howard had something of the leader about him - David Cameron clearly thinks that fixing the form is more important than the message. And he could be right.

Today's world is brand-obsessed. From iPods to Playstations, the badge is seemingly more important than the product which it adorns. Increasingly, we seek differentiation via styling and association rather than substance. It's almost as if the world has been remade in the image of the Beastie Boys.

Good news for graphic designers? Probably. But it's bad news for society when politicians start to realise that image might just be everything after all. What we have come to expect from the likes of Apple should not be acceptable in the ever-shrinking real world.

Underneath the slick imagery, whether it's that of a corporation, a political party or even a pop group, there is usually the unmistakable aroma of moribund ideas and a total lack of meaning.

Andrew Rawnsley,* 'Dancing to Benny Hill won't get David Cameron the girl', the Observer, June 11, 2006

If you'll excuse the orgy of blatant self-promotion, political logos are something I have written about before. A forthcoming edition of the current affairs magazine Magill will include an analysis of the form and content of political party graphics in Ireland.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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