Tom Sutcliffe: If anyone 'owns' the Queen's head, it's us

Social Studies: Why is the Queen permitting her image to be included as a sweetener to a deal so broadly unpopular with her subjects?
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The Independent Online

Perhaps they should put a pig's ear on the postage stamps. As logos go it might at least convey a better sense of the muddle of expediency, political timidity and bogus national pride that accompanies every attempt to sell off the Royal Mail.

Of course, if you had a pig's ear on the stamp, you'd have to move the Queen's head to make way for it – and, judging from the last few days, that would provoke a spasm of political alarm. We read that Coalition ministers are "now in talks" with Buckingham Palace after it was realised that the legislation covering a potential sale included no guarantee that the monarch's head would remain on stamps in future.

Aren't we lucky that circumstances are entirely normal right now, that there's no big rush on or unusual weather circumstances that might distract ministers' attention from this profoundly urgent matter?

It isn't easy to tell from the reports so far whether it was politicians who noticed the problem and scurried off to reassure the Palace, or whether the Palace took umbrage and set politicians running – in terror of some tabloid headline reading "Her Maj Is Losing Her Head". Is it injured regal dignity that has provoked this little flurry, or a politician's stumbling anxiety of appearing indifferent to patriotic tradition? Either way it has provoked some very contradictory logic.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat, reassured the anxious by saying that it would be "commercial suicide" for a new owner to drop the Queen's head. In other words one of the things that's being sold along with the business is a Royal endorsement. Will her Majesty get a cut, in recognition of image rights that would be worth an absolute fortune if they were to be vigorously exploited?

Vince Cable meanwhile, appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, insisted that the Government had "thought very hard about how we protect the brand, 'the royal family'," which made it sound as if this admittedly ambiguous component of our constitution was little more than a logo, a kind of Nike swoosh or Mercedes star which could be franchised out for the right kind of merchandise but fiercely defended against copyright infringement. Which raises two questions immediately. Is it respectful to describe the Royal Family as a brand? And if they really are one, what does the brand stand for?

In the case of the Royal Mail I would have thought it recognised the essentially national character of the service offered. It isn't The Mail By Royal Appointment, as other ordinary businesses are but – notionally at least – something we possess in common, and which is regarded as sufficiently cherishable to have an extra dignity conferred upon it. Which it certainly won't be if it's sold off to a foreign buyer and asset stripped.

Indeed you wonder why the Queen is permitting her image to be included as a sweetener to a deal so broadly unpopular with her subjects. How typical it is that the substance of the service should be dismantled while ministers fight to preserve the outward appearance – a little self-adhesive Potemkin village to be stuck on our letters and parcels. I don't know what the Queen thinks about it – but in my view she should be seeking a guarantee that she won't still be on the stamps when it's eventually sold off.

In the cold light of Christmas

Christmas is getting colder. I'm not talking about the weather here but about decorative lighting, which has conspicuously cooled in colour temperature over the last few years, as LED lights replace incandescent bulbs in Christmas tree lights and street decorations.

In ecological and economic terms this is, of course, a good thing. Such lights consume less electricity, and their carbon footprint – relatively speaking at least – is a mere elf-slipper alongside the giant Santa boot of the old fashioned lights. In aesthetic terms though it takes a bit of getting used to.

Where Christmas lighting used to take the edge off the cold it now seems to emphasise it. I saw a municipal tree the other day which was a chilling glitter of icy red, white and blue – exactly the kind of thing a panto lighting designer would use to suggest the lair of an ice witch. And the lights on our own tree, though described on the box they came in as "warm", instantly lower the temperature in the room by several degrees. It's all a lot less Disneyland and a bit more glacially Scandinavian – which I think is probably an advance in terms of taste as well as fuel-economy. But it's going to take a while before the sentimental thermostat adjusts to the new style.

Tom Sutcliffe

The big novelty in video games this year are the systems which allow you to control a game with your body movements, captured by cameras on top of the machine. The Japanese company Sega recently revealed a plan to take this development in an unusual direction, with the creation of Toirettsu, a console controlled by a stream of urine.

Designed to be installed in restaurant urinals, the device combines an advertising opportunity with an incentive to customers to aim a little more carefully. What's really strange, though, is the animation chosen to accompany the "game", which shows a mischievous cherub arcing a stream of bodily waste into a samurai's can of soft drink.

One assumes it isn't the product that's simultaneously being advertised to the device's captive audience.