words Sam Jacob
Watching a political party try to reinvent itself is a fascinating spectacle. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed the Conservatives finally making a serious effort to appear electable again, following three humiliating defeats.
It’s all thanks to the appointment of an exciting new leader: big-faced, “call me Dave” David Cameron, with his swept hair, gurning smile and rooftop windmill. Seems you can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing Eton’s finest washing up on webcam, frowning at a melting ice cap or listening to The Smiths. Dave is the personification of the Tory party, which for so long was crying out for a proper personality to replace the iconic Mrs T.
But overhauling an organisation requires more than just a big face; it’s not complete without a spot of rebranding. The Tories’ creaky old “Torch of Freedom” logo was in dire need of an update, and so the party hired design firm Perfect Day (involved in Cameron’s leadership campaign) to devise a replacement. And now we have it: an oak tree, drawn as a scribble, with the word “Conservatives” in Lucida font.
Apparently, the oak represents “strength, endurance, renewal and growth”. But there’s much more to it than that. Although variations of the logo have been provided for Welsh and Scottish Conservatives (the Scottish one leans less to the right), the oak is essentially a symbol of Englishness – Robin Hood, the wood for the Tudor navy, Charles I hiding from the Roundheads. More specifically, it suggests the English countryside – the greenery itself (green-friendliness, you know), but also tweed-capped squires bumbling along narrow lanes and Miss Marple types sipping tea at the vicarage. Traditional, grey-haired, Home Counties Tory voters.
Perhaps that’s why the tree has been rendered in a childlike scribble – to offset this rural old-fashionedness. The scribble conveys a sense of action, youthful vigour, family-fridge informality. It’s also, crucially, vague – ideal for a party currently rather short on actual policies.
But there is perhaps a darker side to Perfect Day’s creation; could this apparently innocuous oak be a soft-focus version of a hanging tree, rather like the old torch-in-hand logo that suggested a drunken villager out on a lynching? Maybe that’s just me.
Looking further back, the oak has a deep significance in Celtic lore (perhaps it’s not so exclusively English after all). The Celts and Druids believed the human race descended from trees, and that each tree had magical qualities.
Associated with the summer solstice, the oak tree is also the “door” between the light and dark halves of the year, a gateway to the Otherworld. Hmm – not sure how that’ll play to Mondeo Man.
The oak was sacred to the Druids because of its tendency to attract and survive lightning strikes, regenerating afterwards. It is also linked to male potency via mistletoe, the white berries symbolising the semen of the Lord of the Forest. Tree-related News of the World sex scandal, anyone?
All things considered, we’re dealing with an elusive symbol here. Usually, a logo is designed to express a brand’s core values. Here, it’s a way of avoiding answering the question. It’s a logo for a party keeping its options open, attempting to sway with the prevailing wind of public opinion. No wonder Dave approved it.