Watching a political party try to reassemble itself is a fascinating spectacle. And over the last year we’ve been watching the Tory party attempting to recast itself as something approaching electabiliy after three poll-spankings at the hand of New Labour. Their first project has been the creation of a single personality: Dave. Big faced, swept hair, gurning smile, call-me-Dave David Cameron.
We’ve had Dave webcasting while doing the washing up, Dave cycling to work (car-load of luggage driven just out of sight), Dave checking out the melting ice caps, Dave remodelling his Notting Hill home with windmill-eco-ness, Dave listening to the Smiths “Queen is Dead’ on his iPod. Essentially the Dave-project is an experiment in trying to make a Tory politician walk, talk and act like a human being. It has – quite rightly – been praised as quite an achievement (remember, all Next Gen Tories must have grown up idealising Thatcher, Tebbit, Keith Joseph et all.)
It interesting, but not suprising, to note: personality and identity now come before policy or ideology in the pecking order of political importance. Cameron’s Nu-Tories managed to wriggle through their party conference without declaring a single policy or election pledge. The party (and perhaps politics generally) is running – like teenage love – on feelings and sentiment alone.
Designing an electable personality is one thing. Translating that personality to party and electorate is another. To this effect, the Tories brand communication has been overhauled by Perfect Day (also designers of Cameron’s leadership campaign). This includes replacing the ‘Torch of Freedom’ logo.
Back story told, lets look at the new Tory logo: An oak tree, drawn as a scribble, with the word “Conservatives” in Lucida – a font that looks like Times in Helvetican drag (a perfect fontographic portrait of Dave-ian Conservatism)
The scribble contains a sence of action, the trace of the crayon moving across paper. It’s saying ‘exciting’ and ‘expression’, perhaps like Pollock or Van Gough – even though this isn’t really the trace of a hand, it’s a manipulated vector graphic simulating action. It’s also sketchy: that’s to say suggestive, rather than definitive. Its child-like quality intends to suggest feelings of new-ness, hope and family-fridge informality.
The trunk leans to the right – but, significantly for a party trying to reclaim the middle ground – not too far right.
The Oak is, of course, a symbol of English-ness. Variations have been issued to Welsh and Scottish Conservatives (the Scottish Oak leans less to the right). The logo tells us that the Nu Conservatives have already conceded outside of England. And as there have been more Scottish goalkeeping heroes than there are Celtic Tories, one can understand why.
The Oak represents, according to a spokesman “Strength, Endurance, Renewal and Growth”. However appropriating such a powerful and ancient symbol brings many other associations. Oak-ey Englishness flashes references to the material which built the Tudor Navy and thus England’s wealth and power, Robin Hood, the National Trust, Charles the II hiding from Roundheads. It recalls attributes of tradition, nature, and countryside. Its possible that these associations stray from the positive message: Perhaps it’s a soft focus version of a hanging tree, in the same way that the old torch logo looked like the hand of a villager out on a lynching spree.
Look further back, and the roots of Oak-myth lie in Celtic lore. That’s right. The same Celtic-ness that won’t vote Tory.
The Celts and their Druids believed the human race originally descended from the trees. Each tree had particular magical qualities.
Lets see how Nu-Tory brand values match Celtic mythology.
Oak is often associated with the summer solstice. It represents strength, endurance, fortitude, fatherhood, the God and loyalty. So far, so good.
However, the oak tree is also the “door” between the light and dark halves of the year. The oaken doorway is a gateway to the Otherworld. Hmm, not sure how that will play in to Mondeo Man, Soccer-Mom or whoever is the next elections swing target.
The oak was sacred to the Druids because of its tendency to attract lightening, survive the lightening strikes, and regenerate afterwards. It is also symbolic of male potency in the form of mistletoe. Even in the dormancy of winter, this new life sprouts from its branches with berries of white that symbolise the semen of the Lord of the Forest. Hmm, that’s a bit mixed, and could see you splashed across the New of the World in some tree-based sex scandal.
And here is a Celtic oak ritual that might be useful to the shadow cabinet in its election strategy:
Use the power of the Oak Moon to renew your commitment to your deities and spiritual path. For this ritual, you will need three acorns and six candles. Under the moonlight, charge the acorns to represent your body, mind and spirit. Light each candle to represent the six remaining moons of the lunar year call out to your deities and rededicate yourself to them and their service. Ask for the strength you need to continue on their path throughout this year, or to change the direction of your path to correct and error in your ways. Bury the acorns to symbolise the planting of your rediscovered commitment.
Dave? Is that you under that white hood, coming through the mists holding a knarled staff? Dave?
The Oak logo is double-speak in EPS form: vague despite its apparent significance, suggesting strength without the responsibility of naming source or intention. Usually, the purpose of a logo is to assert and express the core values of its brand. Here, the logo is a way of avoiding answering the question. In an increasingly narrow political landscape lead by focus groups the ability to sway, like branches, with the prevailing wind is essential.