I was disappointed by the reaction of my fellow conservatives to gammon-gate. For those who haven’t been following this mini-scandal, it concerns the use of the word ‘gammons’ by those on the Corbyn-ite left to describe middle-aged, red-faced, pro-Brexit white men who vote Tory. According to the snowflakes of the right, this is a deeply offensive epithet that manages to be both racist and ageist.
‘This is a term based on skin colour and age — stereotyping by colour or age is wrong no matter what race, age or community,’ tweeted the DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly. Hard to disagree with that — and she could have thrown in snobbery for good measure. Gammons tend to be working-class or lower middle-class, whereas the Corbynistas who’ve embraced the term are university-educated and have a habit of dismissing ex-Labour voters as ignorant bigots. It’s also difficult to resist the mischievous glee of calling out left-wing puritans for being racist, ageist and classist when they’re so quick to accuse others of those thought crimes.
But ‘deeply offensive’? Come now. That feels like an attempt by the right to copy the left’s ploy of pretending they’re morally outraged by their opponents’ use of language to score political points. No doubt if there was some prominent left-wing journalist who’d come up with the term ‘gammon’, he or she would have been forced to issue a grovelling public apology by now and resign from their position as, say, head of diversity and inclusion at the Guardian branch of the NUJ. As someone who’s fallen foul of the left-wing thought police — and had to resign from several charities as a result — I hoped those on my side of the political divide would eschew this particular tactic.
It isn’t the first time it’s been used. Last year, the Labour MP Jared O’Mara had to resign from the party’s women and equalities committee after it emerged that he’d posted a series of sexist and homophobic comments on online forums more than a decade ago, and Clive Lewis, another Labour MP, got into difficulty when a recording surfaced of him shouting ‘Get on your knees, bitch’ at a Momentum event. (To be fair to Lewis, the comment was directed at a man.) More recently, the transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf had to step down from Labour’s advisory panel on LGBT+ issues after various barmy things she’d said on Twitter were dug up, including calling suffragettes ‘white supremacists who were fighting for WHITE women’s rights’.
There are two reasons I think conservatives should steer clear of this manoeuvre. First, we are supposed to be on the side of free speech, and that includes the right to give offence. The moment we throw up our arms in horror and call for our opponents’ heads because of their ‘inappropriate’ remarks, we are acknowledging that it’s legitimate to police the public square in this manner. We go from challenging the way political correctness is used to place certain views and opinions beyond the pale to accepting that dogma and accusing our enemies of falling foul of it. That would mean surrendering the moral high ground as the defenders of free speech, a position conservatives have only recently captured from the left.
Second, it would be squandering a key electoral advantage that right-of-centre political parties enjoy — namely, that they are broad coalitions, characterised by intellectual tolerance, at least when compared with Corbyn’s Labour party and the modern Democratic party. The perception among large sections of the voting public in Britain and America, particularly the people Corbynistas dismiss as ‘gammons’, is that the left has become a narrow, sectarian cult, more interested in scrutinising people’s language than helping the working class.
That was the implication of a recent poll carried out by YouGov for Prospect magazine which found that 67 per cent of Britons believe ‘too many people are too easily offended these days over the language that others use’ compared with 33 per cent who thought that care with language is needed ‘to avoid offending people with different backgrounds’. Recent research carried out by Demos in Britain, France and Germany came to a similar conclusion, with the added twist that a majority of voters are angry about having to ‘walk on eggshells’ for fear of being censured by humourless, left-wing martinets.
So next time a left-wing student calls you a ‘gammon’, just laugh good-naturedly. Our ability to do that is why we’re winning and they’re losing.