Gammon: Harmless Banter Or Nasty Abuse?

‘Gammon’ is a term that’s been adopted by the left to refer to a particular type of right-wing, white man. Does it amount to abuse or is it fair game?

Gammon is pig meat that’s been cured or smoked. But it’s also now a term that’s been adopted by the left in the UK to generally refer to right-wing, middle-aged, white men.

The origins of its use as a ‘slur’ are disputed, with Guardian columnist Owen Jones pointing to journalist David Whitley as the possible instigator, to which Whitley replied, “It genuinely wasn’t me, although I saw it percolating and hopped on fairly quickly. The original ‘wall of gammon’ was on June 9th last year, the day after the election”

Whatever the source, there’s no doubting the intensity of the debate surrounding its use, which peaked today after The Time’s senior political correspondent Lucy Fisher published an article condemning it. Is this kind of name-calling fair game or is it unnecessary bullying?

The Times writer Lucy Fisher. Photo via The Times

Game on

Prominent left-wing tweeter and former Corbyn press officer Matt Zarb-Cousin has been one of the leading proponents of the term. In February 2018 he wrote an article describing these so-called “gammon” at great length.

“older men who, despite having all the opportunities that baby boomers enjoyed, are confused and angry at the modern world.” He wrote, adding that “the uniform of the gammon is boot-cut jeans, loafers and an open-collared white polyester shirt.”

But perhaps the moment ‘Gammon’ was solidified in a broader political lexicon was after an episode of the BBC’s Question Time in September of 2017, during which nine red-faced men vehemently spoke in support of nuclear weapons and against Jeremy Corbyn.

As an image of all nine men cropped together circulated on Twitter, they became collectively known as “The Gammon Wall”.

Zarb-Cousin’s argument is that the left have been victims of systematic and repeated name-calling from the right over the past three years or so – including terms such as ‘trots’, ‘loony lefties’ and ‘snowflakes’ – but only when the left throw insults back, he says, is it labelled as abuse.

Matt Zarb-Cousin (left). Photo by Wiki Commons

Gammon’s off the menu

The other side of the debate argue that the term is insulting and unfairly discriminates based on appearance. Lucy Fisher of The Times writes that “Corbynites’ insults will only hurt themselves” and that the term “gammon” will only serve to alienate voters.

“You know the type, the Corbynites wink: the blokes ranting about Brexit and Russia on Question Time. People who rate Jim Davidson and laugh at jokes about shirtlifters. Boorish petrolheads who worship Jeremy Clarkson.”

She notes how this type of insult-slinging can invigorate people in the short term, but argues that with the next general election not scheduled until 2022, “the left” will need to come up with a better long-term strategy to keep voters engaged.

That the current political discourse has deteriorated to petty insults, though, from both sides, is likely to infuriate the electorate, who would surely prefer policy proposals and debate to dominate political conversations.

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