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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jul-18 > Life

Life

Leith on language

Sam Leith

Porcine political put-downs

“Daddy, daddy,” your children will one day ask, “what did you do in the gammon wars?” Each generation has its time of trial. And for this one, it is the great debate over whether “gammon”—a Corbynite slur aimed at the sort of hypertensive white man in late middle age whose angry Brexit face is to be seen in the audience at Question Time—is, as some claim, racist; or, as others claim, classist; or, as its users claim, no more than a woundingly spot-on description of the skin tone of an enraged Daily Mail reader.

Nice to meet a food-based term of abuse.

There aren’t many. Mad people are “nuts.”

Bad films are “cheesy” or “schmaltzy.”

“Coconut” has had some purchase in the racial arena. “Watermelon” (green on the outside, pink on the inside) is sometimes used to troll eco-lefties. Your grandmother might have called you a “silly ‘nana” on the grounds that bananas are intrinsically amusing. But I can’t think of many others.

Is “gammon” racist? We can leave aside the old argument about whether reverse-racism is a thing. There isn’t much of a lexicon of black-on-white deprecation in the UK—you’ll find “honky” and “cracker” in the US, but we have no equivalents. And here, anyway, is a term of abuse used towards white people by (predominantly) other white people. Rather, it’s racism— if that’s the word—directed by white people at pink people. “Pink” not being a race, the jury continues to deliberate, settling on the lesser indictment of appearance- based insult.

A stronger line of attack is that it’s a class-based slur. But it’s not clear which class. Depending on which gammon-deprecator you talk to, it’s a sneer against Top-Gear-watching lower-middle-class provincial men in a uniform of “boot-cut jeans, loafers and an open-collared white polyester shirt”; or claret-faced members of the gin-and-jag belt to be found holding forth at the 19th hole in Henley or Tunbridge Wells. The gammon—as a stereotype for a particular sort of reactionary—crosses psephological categories as does reaction itself.

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In Prospect's July issue: Editor of Prospect Tom Clark tackles the major fault lines developing in the Conservative Party over Brexit, arguing that the issue could be one of those few occasions where the Tories can’t overcome a significant challenge. Alongside his lead essay, Andrew Gamble, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, examines why many European parties on the right are struggling and why the continent should be worried. Conservative MP Lee Rowley charts what some of the policy areas that the Tories will have to deal with beyond Brexit if they are to get it right. Elsewhere in the issue: Nabeelah Jaffer tries to answer one of the most difficult questions of our time: how do you de-radicalise an extremist. Using examples from both the UK and Denmark, she argues that the UK model needs more work to be effective; Philip Collins asks why Britain’s towns have fallen by the wayside while its cities have thrived; and Sam Tanenhaus profiles “the real deal-maker” in Donald Trump’s White House, Mike Pompeo, after the Secretary of State oversaw the US-North Korea summit.
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