Imagine referring to a whole section of society as meat. As mere flesh, bereft of sentience. It used to be hardcore racists who did that, to black people. Now it’s Corbynistas who do it, to that swarm of people they despise more than any other: lower middle-class or working-class white men, usually of middle age, probably lacking university education, and possessed of points of view that make the well-connected haughty youths of the Corbyn machine dry-heave in horror. These men from the lower-down parts of society are ‘gammons’, according to Corbynistas.
Nothing better captures the lack of self-awareness of the largely bourgeois youths who make up the Corbyn crew than their casual hurling of this slur at people they view as too old, too white, too common, and too right-wing. They have no idea how entitled it makes them seem. They call these people ‘gammons’ because apparently they look like gammon: that is, they’re red-faced. High blood pressure among the lower orders is so hilarious! Every time Question Time cuts to someone in the audience who is male, older than 45, from outside of London, a little more rouge about the cheeks than university lefties who have never worked a day in their lives, and critical of the EU or mass immigration, Corbynistas will scream: ‘Gammon!’
They have even collected together screenshots of the most ‘gammon’-looking of these men, and made them into a meme, much like racists once gathered together images of dishevelled-looking black men in an effort to prove that all black men are dishevelled. There is an entirely dehumanising instinct to the gammon slur. It treats individuals as a meat-like mob, indistinguishable from each other, animal-like in their dimwittery. By dint of how they look, the way they speak, where they come from, and the fact they probably like Top Gear (or did, when Jeremy Clarkson was at the helm), these people can apparently be written off. As Lucy Fisher says in the Times today, the gammon-mocking ‘provides a key insight into the psychology’ of Corbynistas.
It also confirms that they have much in common with the bad, old Labour machinery they claim to be distancing themselves from. The gammon attacks bring to mind Gordon Brown’s outburst against Gillian Duffy, the woman in Rochdale who questioned him about the economy and immigration. Brown was caught on mic denouncing her as a ‘bigoted woman’. It threw his election campaign into turmoil because it summed up how distant Labour has become from many of its traditional voters. The difference is that Brown apologised; the Corbynistas, in contrast, make a virtue of their gaping separation from certain sections of society. They revel in it. To them, everyone who isn’t part of their sect is a bigot.
And yet it is wrong to call gammon a racist insult. Some people, including DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly, are suggesting it has racist undertones. It is an insult ‘based on skin colour and age’, says Pengelly. She has a point, certainly on age: the cult of youth that has been central to Corbyn’s success is spectacularly hostile to older generations, whom they view as too comfortable, too Brexity, too right-leaning. And there’s a ‘skin’ element to the gammon insult in that it’s aimed at red-skinned white people. But calling it racist misses the true motor of this elitist epithet: classism.
The most extraordinary thing about Corbyn’s takeover of Labour is that this supposed old Red has made the party more middle-class than ever. It had been moving in that direction for years, of course, but the process has intensified under the grip of these pseudo-Marxists who cut their political teeth in Queer Studies lectures rather than on rowdy picket lines. More working-class people now vote Tory than Labour. And Labour’s membership is now remarkably posh, even more so than it was under Tony Blair. And these people — these cushioned, connected people who went to good universities and for whom being left-wing means being virtuous online rather than active in working communities — have come to view the rest of society with borderline contempt. Worried about immigration, worried about terrorism, not on board with PC-speak — that makes you a bad person, a lesser person, a gammon, in their all-judging eyes.
The gammon insult speaks to a creeping new intolerance in politics, which Corbynistas are often at the forefront of stirring up. Insult replaces engagement, writing-off takes the place of debate, and dehumanisation elbows out discussion. The irony is brilliant: ‘gammons’ are apparently reactionary and insular people, but it’s the people who call them gammons who really display those traits.