A 1928 caricature of Robert Lynd.
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Robert Lynd: In Defence of Pink

In this article, first published in the New Statesman in 1936, Irish essayist Robert Lynd responds to an attack on the colour pink by G K Chesterton, saying “as a lover of pink I cannot let this pass without a protest”.

This article by the Irish essayist Robert Lynd (or “Y Y” as he was known in the NS) first appeared in the magazine in June 1936, as a response to an essay by G K Chesterton.

In his new book of essays, As I Was Saying, Mr G. K. Chesterton makes the admirable suggestion that, now that so many people have begun to express their political opinions by wearing coloured shirts, shirts of various shades ought also to be manufactured. This would provide a means of self-expression for those who are only “Rather Nazi or Not Quite Communist.” The Rather Nazi “might express his doubts by having his new brown shirt fade faintly into the old field-grey.” Having made this very sensible proposal, however, Mr. Chesterton makes an exception as regards pink, He would allow no pink shirts to be put on the market. A pink shirt to him, it is clear, is as a red rag to a bull. He denounces pink in such terms as no colour surely has ever been denounced before. “Pink,” he says, “seems to me the essentially false and negative colour; because it is the dilution of something that is rich and glowing or nothing... Pink suggests nothing but the horrible and blasphemous idea of wine with too much water in it. Pink is the withering of the rose and the fading of the fire; pink is mere anaemia in the blood of the universe.

As a lover of pink I cannot let this pass without a protest. Pink is a colour that mankind, or the English-speaking part of it, instinctively chose as a symbol of perfection. We speak not only of “the pink of perfection” but of “the pink of fashion,” or “the pink of elegance.” Many a soldier, writing from the Front, kept up the spirits of his wife and children by signing his letter: “Yours in the pink.” Mr Chesterton, if he had been censor, would presumably have crossed this out and substituted: “Yours in the blues.” Then there is the pink of the huntsman – a misnomer, perhaps, but this merely proves how deeply men of heroic mould reverence the colour. And how could any one fail to reverence the colour in a world in which year after year spring announces her arrival in the pink of the almond blossom, and summer her arrival in the pink of the wild rose. “Pink,” says Mr Chesterton “is the withering of the rose.” On the contrary, it is the colour of the true, the original, rose – the rose that bloomed in the Garden of Eden. The rose did not turn red till after Adam sinned. Pink, again, is the loveliest colour of the carnation: deeper shades are vulgar in comparison with it. In the years in which I sued often to be still awake at dawn, what an entrancing spectacle were the pink clouds in the eastern sky! And what child is there who has not been entranced by the echo of that colour in the lustrous hollows of shells? It is no wonder that parents choose pink and blue as the two perfect colours with which to decorate the cradles of their adored infants – bows of pink ribbon for a girl, bows of blue for a boy. There is no colour in nature to surpass it. Even in the matter of wine, pink calls up the image not of watered claret, but of that charming-looking, if not so charming-tasting, wine, vin rosé. Pink the colour of anaemia in the blood? Why, it is the colour of health among the so-called white races, who, as has often been pointed out, are really the pink races – at least, the one that has painted the map pink is.

I can honestly say that, in my opinion, the best thing that could happen to the world would be that it should become pinker and pinker. I should feel much happier about Nature herself if I felt that she was gradually turning pink in tooth and claw. If we much have revolutions, I should prefer pink revolutions to red revolutions. As a child, I was afraid of the Scarlet Woman: if I could have thought of her as the Pink Woman, I should have rather liked her. I certainly prefer people whose sins are pink to those whose sins are scarlet. There is too much red in the world. I do not know whether any nation at present flies a pink flag, but I have a notion that pink will be the colour of the international flag when the war-drum throbs no longer. Mr Chesterton may not join in the chorus, but how rapturously the rest of us, from Tokio to Vancouver, will sing – nay, roar – our anthem, “Keep the pink flag flying.”

Mr. Chesterton’s hatred of pink, I imagine, is largely the result of his having been born in a country that has worked extremism out of its system. The beauties of moderation are conspicuous only in a world of immoderate man. The moderate man is apt to congratulate himself on his moderation – to become smug.  And, when one meets a man who is not only moderate but smug, one cannot help wishing that he would get rid of his moderation as a means of getting rid of his smugness. (As a matter of fact, smugness is not confined to the moderate: it is equally common among the extremists, the heretics, and the unconventional.) Still, there is something very revolting in the smugness of a man who is both moderate and successful, and moderate men have an unpleasant way of being successful. At the same time, consider what a world we should be living in if the majority of people had not learned the art of being moderate. The temperate man may at times seem dull, but how infinitely boring, in nine cases out of ten, is the drunkard! A happy marriage of give-and-take may seem flat, but the more passionate life of a wife-beater or a husband-slapper is in the end even more tedious. Immoderate people are exciting to read about, but who would send his son to be educated by one of them? We do not glorify immoderate bank-managers or immoderate doctors. In nearly all our relations in life, we like people to be pink. We say of So-and-So: “He’s a white man,” but what we usually mean is: “He’s a pink man” – a man pinker than ourselves, and so to be trusted.

It is obviously, however, in political rather than in moral matters that Mr. Chesterton abhors pinkness. “There is,” he says, “a merely pink humanitarianism which I dislike even more than the Red Communism. It is not so honest: it is not so genuinely angry or so justly angry; and it is ultimately every bit as negative and destructive of the strong colours of and definite shapes of any great historical culture. It will not weaken civilisation the less because it is too watery to burn in the night: for you cannot set fire to a town with pink torches or pink artillery. This cold and colourless sentimentalism none the less threatens the world like a slow and crawling Deluge.” As a pink humanitarian I read these words with a lively concern. I have grown pinker and pinker with the years, but I had always thought until now that, little good though I could do, I was at least – in political maters – harmless. I have never blinded myself to the fact that in politics I am a wobbling sentimentalist, but, as I have never had a vote except in a strong Tory constituency, I have comforted myself with the reflection that I could do no injury to my fellows. At times, I have even become self-satisfied – smug, if you prefer it – in my pinkness. I have said to myself: “If only everybody were as pink as I, all this nonsense in the world would end in a week. If only everybody wobbled like me, how well everybody would get on together!” Many people, when they see a statesman wobbling, lose confidence in him. That is the moment at which I, on the contrary, renew my trust in him. I like to see a Conservative statesman and a bit of a Liberal, a Liberal statesman a bit of a Conservative, and a Socialist statesman a bit of both. I should trust Mussolini and Hitler more if they occasionally wobbled. It is their death-like rigidity that appals me. Oh, for a few pink corpuscles flowing through their veins! How much better a time the Abyssinians and the Jews would have!

Possibly, my love of a blending, a moderation, of colours is due to the fact that I grew up in a country in which the political colours were, in Mr. Chesterton’s phrase, “rich and glowing.” In the Ireland of my youth, orange was not permitted to be blended with green, and green was not perceptively diluted with orange. At the same time, there were visionaries who looked forward to the day on which these colours would be miraculously interfused. I am not a painter and do not know what the result is when green is mixed with orange, but I should not be surprised to learn that it was pink. The Irish Free State has not gone so far as to fly a pink flag, but it has at least abandoned the pure green flag, and made room for a strip orange united to the green by a white band of peace. This is surely an example of pinkness in politics – which is disquieting, perhaps, to Mr. Chesterton, but it is inspiriting to me. It is a symbol of compromise, and compromise seems to me the third most beautiful thing that ever came out of the mind of man. If I love pink, it is probably because it is the colour of compromise and the colour of hope. It is not for nothing that Nature brings in spring with the almond blossom and summer with the wild rose. Here Nature is our schoolmaster, bidding us to dilute our angry red if we would enter into a world of sunshine. That is why my whole political philosophy may be summed up in the phrase: “Strike me pink.” And, in my dreams of the future of the world, my profoundest hopes might be expressed in the phrase: “Strike all the world pink!”

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.