The Verdant Revolution

One of my favourite words is verdant. In order to spare any readers the agony of consulting a dictionary, the word is defined as:

1. green with vegetation; covered with growing plants or grass: a verdant oasis.
2. of the color green: a verdant lawn.
3. inexperienced; unsophisticated: verdant college freshmen.

Woods in SpringtimeAll three definitions are congruous with my university’s appearance and demeanour at the moment. Yesterday, amid the bright, late Spring sunshine, I walked between campuses along a woodland pathway; not so long ago, the bare trees were unable to filter out the grey, dim light of a winter sky. Now there were green leaves to act as a filter to the hot sun, and the scent of honeysuckle and the sounds of insects buzzing filled the air. Verdant.

Beyond the path, there was the campus common; exams are nearly done, and the students decided to have an impromptu festival on the lawn. Bottles of beer and cheap alcoholic cider were in evidence. Books were thrown aside, sunglasses donned. It’s unclear how many were first year, second year or third years, but they had a freshness which came from the belief that the highest obstacle of which they could conceive had just been overcome. Crack a bottle open, listen to music, lay out on the lawn, life is good, thank God that’s over with. Naive. Young. Verdant.

Tomorrow is full of verdant possibilities too. As anyone who has been following the news for the past month knows, we have endured a period of drudgery and muck. But at the same time, there have been undeniable benefits: there had been legitimate concern that Britain had been succumbing to the lethal poison of apathy. When no one longer cares about democracy, that is the moment when liberty ceases to exist; the bland, grey corporatism of New Labour had seemed precisely calibrated to smother any instinct for freedom with its technocratic rhetoric and its bureaucratic impulses. As nauseating as the expenses scandal has been, its stench has awoken the public to levels of political awareness that I haven’t seen in over 20 years of living here; we will find out in the local and European elections on Thursday what precisely this will bring. Will we enter a time that will be verdant with the same weeds of corruption which will continue to choke the system? Or will it be verdant with new strains of political extremism which may strangle the nation’s traditions of decency? Or will it be verdant in a new way, in which a thousand flowers of reform will bloom?

The latter path is the most fascinating one, if the most complex. However, there are signs that we may go precisely that way: for example, a ComRes poll indicates that the Green Party has hit 15%, overtaking the Liberal Democrats. While this poll may be an outlier, it does match up with personal experience; two weeks ago, I decided to go out for dinner at a local restaurant. As I waited for my order to arrive, the two women seated at the table across from mine began to discuss politics; they were both middle aged, and judging from the way they had been complaining about their employer over their drinks, I guessed they worked in an administrative capacity. They were understandably furious at the Government: phrases and words like “pigs in the trough” and “sleaze” were used with all the vehemence and frequency of machine gun fire. They debated for a while what they should do about it; voting was an absolute necessity, they decided. They discussed voting for the UK Independence Party. However, they felt that there was something not quite trustworthy about them either: given the UKIP MEPs who have been thrown out of the party for financial irregularities, they were correct. There was no chance they would vote for the BNP. One then said that the Greens were trustworthy; the other lady agreed. Their tandoori chicken arrived, covered in onions and sizzling in an iron skillet; it was perfectly understandable that they abandoned politics at that point.

I felt like saying something or buying them another round of lager, but I wasn’t sure if activism in a curry house was a good idea; after all, what would it say about the Green Party if its message was “Vote for us, have a beer”? I slightly raised my glass to them without their noticing it and settled back into thought. This was just one curry house in a prosperous corner of rural southern England on a sleepy Saturday evening. How many other such conversations were going on, I wondered, in other curry houses, or down at the pub, or over a family dinner? How many of the arguments, disagreements and discussions came to the same conclusion? Could it be that the polls are wrong and the results will be even more dramatic than can be presently foreseen?

Speak it softly, but perhaps we are witnessing a revolution. The old way has been conclusively proven to be bankrupt, and the common sense of this aged democracy is telling the citizenry to shed it for something better. The institutions’ ramparts are being stormed, not by men with chiselled jaws like one sees in old Soviet art, but by secretaries and call centre workers, car mechanics and bank clerks, plumbers and bricklayers. I suspect that the queues to the polling booths will be full of them tomorrow, who by their individual marks on ballots, will call time on our present epoch. I will join them, casting my vote for the Greens where I can, casting my vote for other reformers if that option is not available to me. Then I will go home, and settle into a deep night of waiting for events to unfold. It will likely be a long evening, but pregnant with possibility and thus unmissable: it could be that by the time the dawn comes, we will be set on a course which will deepen a revolution. The Prime Minister may finally realise that he is lingering idly in the corridors of power though power has deserted him, and having supped too long on the bitter meal of futility, he may finally stand aside to let the cleansing effect of revolution do its work. Or, he may continue to believe in the myth of his own indispensability and remain resolved to stay; in which case the pressure could build to exploding point, and the revolution will do its work anyway. Revolutions, like Spring, have their own logic which cannot be constrained nor fully tamed: life bursts out in all its multitude of forms, as do ideas. We are verdant with both this June; it’s exciting to be witness to it and even more exciting to take part.

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