For decades, the most frequently seen signature in the world was probably that of Walt Disney. The swooping, cloud-like capital letters – the whirling ‘W’, the squiggly circle on the ‘I’, the late strike through the ‘D’ – appeared before and after all his films like a stamp of calming, paternal authority.
These days, though, it’s probably Rishi Sunak’s. The MP for Richmond (Yorks) has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for less than six months, but over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as he’s doled out cash left, right and centre, he has risen from ‘Rishi who?’ to ‘Dishi Rishi’ to ‘Robin Hood in a slimfit Topman two-piece’ to ‘both Boris Johnson’s greatest asset and gravest threat’. And through it all, he’s personally signed off on every penny. Literally.
Everything about Sunak is slick, from the immaculate hair to the £180 travel mug, but nothing is quite as manicured as his personal brand. With every announcement of a new round of fiscal stimulus – be it the furlough scheme or the arts bailout – an accompanying Twitter card has been created.
1/ Traineeships are a proven scheme to get young people ready for work. We know they work, so for the first time ever we’ll pay employers £1,000 to take on trainees, with triple the number of places. #PlanForJobs pic.twitter.com/lX8hV0al2n— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 8, 2020
As commentators have noted, at best these look like posters for chart-targeting dance singles. At worst they look like a high street clothing store announcing a closing down sale: all capital letters, wildly inconsistent fonts and mad kerning, usually laid over thoughtful headshots of our 40-year-old Chancellor hard at work. Whatever they are, somebody at the Treasury is really making the most of a free trial on Adobe Illustrator.
But while they vary, all the cards have one thing in common. At the bottom, or in the corner, is the Sunak stamp: a hand-written signature above the word CHANCELLOR. “My name is Rishi Sunak, and I approve this message,” is the subtext. Yesterday’s, which urged the public to “eat out to help out” (best we don’t explore that), had six different fonts, including his autograph.
To support restaurants and the people who work in them we’re saying ‘Eat Out to Help Out’.— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 8, 2020
So for the month of August we will give you a 50% reduction, up to £10 per head, on sit-down meals and non-alcoholic drinks Monday-Wednesday. #PlanForJobs pic.twitter.com/D6eznIDjqC
It is what Eric Bristow used to do with his line of Argos dart boards. It is what golfers do with their clubs. It is what you find on the label of any bottle of Kylie Minogue’s newly-launched bottles of rosé (available at Tesco). But what can we tell from this ubiquitous squiggle of generosity?
Well, it’s not an exact simulacrum of his name, that’s for sure. If you didn’t know the Chancellor, you might think you were reading, “Ri & Hi, Soz”. But this is a man who writes massive cheques for a living: he has flair. And so we find a giant R that slips underneath the rest of the first name like a picnic blanket; an undotted ‘I’; an ‘S’ that more closely resembles an upside down ribbon hung from a tiny lowercase ‘h’; a dotted ‘I’; and a surname that looks like a snake knighting another snake.
Not massively illuminating, I’ll grant you. A few years ago, however, handwriting analyst Elaine Quigley – who knows about these things – ran the rule over the signatures of a dozen senior politicians of the time, to find out what’s in a hastily-written name. Donald Trump’s spikey, aggressive black squiggle is “like barbed wire with blood on it”, she said. Vladimir Putin’s indecipherable scrawl belied a man “who can tie everybody in knots.”
But the world leader signature that Sunak’s most resembles is probably Barack Obama’s. Big, clear initials, not much care for the legibility of the rest, but with an obvious direction of travel: forward. It would not be the first time the young chancellor has been compared to the 44th US president, and it probably won’t be the last.
“Can you see the great long end stroke on Obama?” Quigley asked. “This indicates the president is putting himself out there, [he] doesn’t care to talk about himself that much, but rather what he wants to do for the country, how he wants to improve things – the big ‘B’ and ‘O’ show that he wants to represent ideals rather than get across his personality.”
The ‘R’ and ‘S’ in Sunak’s are just as big. The end stroke also trails off into the future. Could it be that he too just wants to improve things and represent ideals? Could it be that he wants to be Britain’s Barack Obama? Or is he just a snake knighting another snake? Whatever it is, Rishi Sunak approves this message.