Listening to the news recently, my ears pricked up at the mention of a new political party in Spain that had chosen purple as its political colour.
Wow! That is some colour choice. And a political colour choice in a Catholic country to boot!
Purple has a regal history – so difficult and expensive to produce as a dye, it was reserved for the Imperial and the powerful. Byzantine Emperors adorned themselves with purple, whilst their Empresses gave birth in purple rooms. It was the colour of Roman Emperors and became the colour for the highest levels of the Catholic Church. It still is the colour of Royalty and High Church. Purple is a high colour.
And it is rarely used in politics.
Perhaps it has been avoided as too high a colour for politics. Purple is not the colour of the people. Instead it brings to mind the wealthy, the aristocratic, the powerful, the divine, the upper echelons of the Christian church.
Yet here it is making its entrance as the colour for the new Spanish party of the people – the party that is going to fight the EU and the draconian measures of austerity recently imposed on the citizens of such a proud nation.
Podemos – We Can – and We Can in purple!
The rise of Podemos has been swift.
I wonder how much the purple helped.
Of course, purple is not wholly unheard of in politics.
I was always struck by the Suffragettes’ combination of purple with white and green for their banners, sashes, rosettes and badges. Purple for Dignity, White for Purity, Green for Hope.
In this century the colour was chosen by Il Popolo Viola, an Italian movement sickened by the carryings on of their reprehensible Prime Minister, Berlusconi, and demanding his resignation. Their purple posters and banners heralded No Berlusconi Day on 5 December 2009. Again this use of purple may have been a choice to show the movement’s separation from the existing political parties, but I also wonder if it was an attempt to bring back a sense of honour and pride to the political life of Italy.
Today in Britain we have a much derided, but to be ignored at our peril, political party using purple, in one of the most revolting colour combinations – purple and yellow. I’ve long wondered at this logo. The blatant use of a pound sign, for starters. As a party wanting to set themselves very much apart from all the existing parties – blue, red, green, yellow – purple is an obvious choice. To then go and pair it with its opposite colour on the colour wheel, causes a visual shock and creates what I must assume is the desired reaction.
Purple can provoke a strong reaction. Many of the pre-World War II generation considered purple an inappropriate colour in which to dress. Certainly my mother, born in 1930, would never have been seen dead in purple, and hated it when I took to wearing purple myself. I never asked her why, but have always supposed that this colour of the high born and high church was somehow too much, or perhaps worn by people who thought too much of themselves. The rousing poem by Jenny Joseph (1932-) ‘Warning’, is a rallying cry of a response to this attitude. The first line of the poem is intended as a defiant statement of rebellion, ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’. Written in 1961 it has generated a world-wide movement celebrating daring in the mature woman.
Until recently and as a consequence of its high born associations, purple has only ever been used sparingly in marketing and packaging, remaining the preserve of indulgence, exoticism and luxury. In 1905 the chocolate manufacturers Cadbury patented the purple used in their packaging, so vital was the colour in perpetuating the company’s image as chocolate royalty. Lately, however, purple has strayed into the arena of cleaning products – a mistake in my view – perhaps reflecting how homes have become temples.
Purple is fabulous, of that there is no doubt. However, being the colour of divinity, authority and power, it also comes with responsibilities. When the elements of opulence and exoticism become overdone, it leads to corruption and wantonness. Overblown writing is described as ‘purple prose’. There is little purple in nature – nature knows to use it sparingly. Purple symbolises the higher realms of the human condition and needs to be used with discretion. Be warned, Mr Farage …
“Warning” by Jenny Joseph, 1961
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.