Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Santa's image has been manipulated... and so have we on party donations'

Coca-Cola's ad campaign made sure the company's red and white corporate colours became the predominant image of Santa throughout the western world.
Coca-Cola's ad campaign made sure the company's red and white corporate colours became the predominant image of Santa throughout the western world.

We all love Santa – the big jolly guy with the white beard and red and white outfit. He’s been around forever it seems, as constant and unchanging as the Earth’s revolution around the Sun.

As is often the case with what is obviously true, all is not what it seems.

North Pole’s most famous resident originally dressed in green and represented the spirit of benevolence and good cheer.

The current incarnation of Santa was cemented from the 1930s onward through advertising campaigns by Coca Cola, keen to promote Santa in their famous corporate colours of red and white. Arguably one of the most successful ad campaigns in history which is why it continues to this day.

In 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom created magazine ads for CocaCola inspired by Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem 'The night before Christmas', featuring St Nicholas as a kind, jovial man in a red suit.

While Coca-Cola did not invent Santa’s red and white outfit, their ad campaign made sure their depiction became predominant image of Santa throughout the western world.

I find it concerning that something so central to our cultural practice has been so manipulated and so too have we.

This is a great example of how we can all simply take the truth for granted when we can’t see who is pulling the strings behind the scenes.

That is why I believe transparency of relationships is so important – particularly when it comes to politics.

The electorate invests a lot of trust in politicians and their parties to represent their best interests.

However, that trust has not been reciprocated as a veil of secrecy still hangs over who funds local political parties.

Despite commitments to make Northern Ireland politics more transparent the legislation maintaining donor secrecy has already been extended three times from 2007.

The Green Party is the only party that publishes all donations it receives over the value of £500.

Therefore, every political decision in Northern Ireland is open to questions of undue influence from vested interests - from planning decisions to procurement contracts. The question remains as to whether decisions are made in the public interest or in the interests of party funders.

We all know that whoever pays the piper calls the tune – however, voters in Northern Ireland never know who the piper is and therefore can’t have a clear picture of what is motivating the decisions and policies of their legislators.

So, my gift from request to Santa this year is to give the people of Northern Ireland the chance to see who funds their political parties.

And regardless of what appears on your Christmas card, the truth is Santa is Green.

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