The first day of the Chelsea Flower Show was a very English day: a cool mist that turned to drizzle, a grey sky that Farrow & Ball call Light Blue. While I was gazing at Peter Beales roses, my husband began talking to a man dressed in a beautiful tweed suit. I have a thing about tweed suits. I love the weave of colours, the feeling of substance and longevity. The one next to my husband looked as if it was made for its wearer. Only as I got closer did I recognise the voice and realise it was Norman Tebbitt. He was speaking passionately about the need for the Conservatives to get fired up.
‘Why isn’t David Cameron denouncing the Government for its incompetence? Incompetence in running the Health Service. Incompetence in Education. Incompetence with pensions. Incompetence in the countryside.’ By the time they parted, I had forgotten the serenity of the Linnaeus Garden and was mentally updating the mantra ‘It’s the economy, Stupid’. Think ‘It’s the Incompetence, Damnit’. It has become a persistent theme in my mind, and once you start scrolling back, the list grows ever longer. But last week produced the first logo for Incompetence: shocking pink graffiti with neo-Nazi shapes that say 2012.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the 2012 Olympic logo design came from the ‘brand consultants’ who created New Labour’s red rose in 1986, the team that tried to rebrand Britain ‘Cool Britainnia’. This is a Government obsessed with branding, changing old logos and creating new ones, as well as new names of departments. Here in the countryside, where branding once meant the marking of animals to indicate ownership, we have seen a bewildering array of logos, ranging from the good (FWAG) to the meaningless (Defra). But the ‘branding’ that works reflects the strengths, values and spirit of the cause.
Which is why it seems colossal incompetence not to have figured out that the spirit of the Olympics is competition. Every art school in the country should have competed to come up with a logo, followed by a longlist, a shortlist, and finally a televised programme with a panel of design gurus people such as Terence Conran, Stephen Bayley, Nicole Farhi to find the winner. The whole country would have felt a degree of involvement.
It’s not too late. Remember Consignia, that clever idea to rebrand the Royal Mail? It triggered a People’s Revolt, and Consignia was consigned to the dustbin of design history. Now 50,000 people have complained about the Olympic logo. Lord Coe and the agency Wolff Olins need to admit they have a Consignia on their hands, dump it and generously sponsor a competition, starting in the art schools.
They might also reflect on the Olympic symbol of five interlocking rings. Circles connote wholeness, and the interlocking of them continuity. What does graffiti represent? Nothing good, according to Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Writing about the time when New York City’s subways were covered in graffiti and plagued with far -dodging and violent muggings, graffiti is symbolic of the collapse of the system. The starting point to getting rid of crime was to get rid of graffiti. Adopting a logo that romanticises graffiti doesn’t reflect the values of either Londoners or the Olympics. Wash the graffiti off the wall. Start again. Like the brand says, Just do it.