Saturday, 18 April 2015

Poundstretcher: The UKIP Logo Is A Postmodern Vortex

By Eddie Blake

It is a slab of ancient olde English heritage rendered in lush 21st century purple. The purple is pretty pure. A kind of deep purple; a power chord of a colour. The colour-symbol combination delivers the most formidable logo on the UK political scene.

In general, party logos are the epitome of committee-designed vacuity. Fulfilling the brief of saying something vaguely positive to the widest possible audience while saying nothing negative to the rest of us. Amongst the sea of neutered symbols lies a robust and unwavering logo. A logo that seems to come from a simpler time, a time before the endless media savvy focus groups.

Nigel Farage back in 1997

The UKIP logo is only beaten in longevity by the Liberal Democrats Bird of Liberty. After an initial flirt with the red white and blue Star of Bethlehem, UKIP landed on the pound sign logo in 1998. Although the logo has had many iterations over the years, the pound sign has been a constant. It is a symbol which draws sustenance from years of  service. The purple pound has long outlived its single issuereason to be, and now remains a feature in the political aesthetic landscape, like a sentinel watching over the very soul of the UK. It is the vessel for some deep myths about our shared identity. The symbol is a constant reminder of a past jeopardy the danger of losing sovereignty an imagined near miss. It is a metonym for a myth about us and them; Anglo-Saxon freedoms versus continental tyranny.

Discontinued official UKIP logos

But since the government officially ruled out entry to the Eurozone in 2007, the loss of the pound as currency has been well off the political agenda, so why has the UKIP pound sign persisted? Perhaps because it is just so good at getting the message across.

The message is clear: UKIP understands the bargain basement issues. It provides Policies 4 U. In 2012, in a slick piece of PR, the party claimed it was axing the logo. UKIP said it was, ‘dropping the pound sign because the battle had been won and Britain was not going to replace sterling with the euro.’ They went on to say, ‘Our pound sign has been a fantastically simple image. But now it […] represents a battle honour and not a forward looking aspiration for a party that wants to represent an independent UK.’

We can only assume this public announcement was a stunt – they knew they were onto a good thing. Their ‘fantastically simple’ image works, persistent like a sleazy dipsomaniac. Even though it is a reminder of their pressure group roots, the bulbous pound sign is too useful to ditch.

A good logo is a conduit for layers of unspoken meaning. In this case, perhaps it conceals some unspeakable meanings as well. The currency reaches back through centuries of history, right back to the homely world of the Anglo-Saxon hoards, connecting us English to those simpler times. Awkwardly, the symbol itself is descended from the Roman libra (hence the adapted ‘L’); the name ‘pound’ is an adaptation of the Latin phrase ‘libra pondo’ - ‘a pound by weight’. It was imported to Britain by southern European immigrants.

The whole point of being conservative is that you really, really don’t want to move on. Even when you are imagining a transformative and traumatic change you prefer to call it continuity. The UKIP pound logo is the product of an eerie combination of an imagined deep past and a discount sofa future. It combines seeming immutability with a no-nonsense Poundstretcher aesthetic and thus produces an unbeatable logo.

UKIP seems to pride its self on anti-design: from the logo which was obviously designed in MS Paint by someone deeply immersed in the oeuvre of Alan Partridge, to the swivel-eyed bacchanalia that constitutes their promotional literature. It’s exactly this anti-design which aligns so well with the more alienated edges of our nation. Pound shops, slot machines and shiny suits. If ever there was a magic bullet for a certain idea of English identity, the purple pound sign is it. There, in one package, is a condensed combination of both the history and the contemporary image of the nation.

Purple has been used in the past to signify the political centre ground: A safe consensus driven space between the red left and the blue right. (For more read here in Finn Williams piece from last time around

Perhaps UKIP’s purple stems from their origins a non-political single interest group. Maybe it was just what was left over once all the main parties had laid claim to the rest of the spectrum. UKIP purple is straight down the line. In numbers: #70147A ; RGB - 112, 20, 122; CMYK- 0.082, 0.836, 0, 0.522. Swirling around that heady world of single-issue Eurosceptic parties around the turn of the last century was a lot of purple. Kilroy knew the score. He kept to the universal appeal of the political purple. His party, Veritas (“The Straight Talking Party”), took on almost exactly the same hue. Businessman Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party went with a classy Maroon and Cream, more in tune with its west London roots.

Labour shifted from the ‘Red Flag’ to the ‘Red Rose’. The move was overseen by Mandelson himself. The Conservatives changed from the red white and blue ‘Torch’ to the strangely green tree. The later addition of the Union Flag was in part the brainchild of the disgraced Andy Coulson, who felt the British flag should be involved somehow as a nod to the disillusioned Tory right, meeting the improbable brief of being both patronising and menacing. Do UKIP have a media savvy monster sitting waiting for the right time to change their logo, or are they just sitting there in the comfortable knowledge that they have pitch perfect semiotics.

I doubt anyone decides where to place their X solely based on graphic design. But if you are impressed by complex semiotics and budget graphics UKIP will make you vote so hard your pencil will break.

The UKIP logo meets the ambivalent postmodern brief of being both banal and scary, both referential and new. The pound sign logo succinctly encompasses UKIP: Dangerously slick PR nous straight out of a car-boot sale.

Eddie Blake is a senior designer at Sam Jacob Studio . He was previously part of Studio Weave where he worked on a wide range of schemes. He studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow followed by the University of Westminster, where he continues to be a visiting critic. He has also written about architecture for the Architects' Journal, Blueprint and Vice Magazine among other publications.

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