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If she’d stuck at the rat bit, Harriet would have been fine

Posted on 31 October 2010 | 11:10am

As I got very wet cycling round and round the Emirates Stadium this morning, I was pondering whether a man could have got away with calling Danny Alexander a ‘ginger rodent.’

Maybe – that was the conclusion I came to. Then I got pondering whether a woman other than Harriet Harman might have been able to deliver this jibe without provoking such an outcry. I don’t know, I thought as the rain started to freeze my neck, but again, just maybe.

There was definitely something about it being Harriet, she of the Equalities Bill, she who is something of a bete noire among the anti-PC brigade, that took her attack on the Treasury chief secretary at Labour’s Scottish conference from ‘oo er’ to ‘oh my God, she’d better apologise.’

When you look at the rather fine dark strawberry blonde locks atop my head, it may surprise you to learn I was once a ginger. There is one childhood photo in particular where I could pass for a young Charles Kennedy crossed with a young Mick Hucknall, if you can imagine such a thing. So till my early teens, when my hair started to darken, I was quite used to the insults that – for reasons I never fully understood – get thrown at redheads.

But – and here is another reason why Harriet may not have been as alive to the sensitivity of the Alexander crack as she should have been – I noticed that it tended only to be male redheads who got the abuse. There was something a bit glam about ginger girls, but something eminently pisstakeable about ginger boys.

I thought Danny Alexander dealt with it quite well, tweeting that he was proud to be ginger and that rodents often cleared up other people’s mess.  But that he has ratted on a lot of his election promises is nonetheless true, and it may seem odd, I pondered as the rain started to leak out of the top of my shoes, that it is the ginger bit that was deemed offensive, not the rodent bit. If she had said ‘Treasury rat,’ or ‘Lib Dem rat’ or ‘former national park press officer rat’, that presumably would have been just about ok. It’s all in the ginger.

We are maybe still a bit squeamish in the UK. My favourite hair jibe came from former Aussie PM Paul Keating who, under attack from his black-haired opponent, shouted back ‘The right honourable gentleman should calm down before he has a heart attack. This is no spring chicken here, Mr Speaker — I knew him when he had grey hair.’ Cue collapse of stout fellow, another win for Keating, and certainly no apology.

  • No apology because that was a funny and clever quip, whereas Harriet’s unfortunately, was not.

  • Halloway

    My favourite hair-based put down was one that Julian Clary used to use. As part of his show he would invite some hapless audience member up on stage. He’d take one look at their head and say “Oh dear. Who cut you hair? The council?”

  • Sarah-dodds

    The real story for me today is the The Mirrors’ claim that David Cameron got £21000 expenses for his second home. Now I have been firm in defending many MPs from all parties in the expenses scandal. But following his own comments about tax payers not “understanding” paying people £20000 per annum in housing benefits, even I have concluded that this utterly takes the piss if it is true.
    And if you have seen Sutton Park, the stately mansion outside York owned by Sam’s family you get to understand just from what stock his family do come. But hey ho, maybe Sam’s dad and step mum could do B&B at Sutton for some of the future homeless moving up North from London. I’m sure they would want to do their bit.

  • Personal favourite is John Prescott’s comment on Michael Fabricant’s majority. “Hair today, gone tomorrow.” Jokes about Fabricant’s hair almost write themselves.

  • Xanthippe

    He no a rat – he a hamster

  • Steve Brundish

    I think the Harriet’s quip shows that Labour needs to focus its media strategy. They need to decide apon a message and stick to it. A start would be to defend Labour’s record in office. Make it clear the deficit was caused by the banking crisis and not take lectures about econmics from the man who was wrong when advising Norman Lamont, wrong during the banking crisis and now is making a mess of reducing the deficit. Labour should show that Cameron is cynical and self centered for ever blaming the previous government for his own decisions and more interested in a media strategy designed to deliver a boost in the polls rather than an economic strategy designed to benefit the people of Britain. Slippery, dishonest and untrustworthy. If Ed and and Harriet get this we could see a real fight back and red headed Scottish rodents can sleep well free from off the cuff attacks form the MP for Peckham.

  • Maureen Henry

    Good for Harrriet. As a teacher, I think Danny A looks like every class sneak I have ever met ‘ Please Miss, do you know what Johnny Smith said when you were out the class?’

  • John HW

    I just think that making rather silly personal comments like HH did gives opposition politicians an open goal, when they should be being forced relentlessly onto the defensive by Labour over their policies. Tackle the issues, not the person (to paraphrase Tony Benn).

    Mind you, I think the crassest comment by far came from the ScotNat politician who said yesterday that HH’s remarks were anti-Scottish as lots of Scots have red hair…..dear, oh dear!

  • Ko9

    I watched a game of football at Yate Town about 4 years ago- attendance about 200. A ginger player complained to the ref about some forgotten thing and a small vocal group of about 6 fans began chanting ” just because you’re ginger, just because your ginger”. I laughed but I felt sorry for him at the same time. My son who was about 13 at the time didn’t laugh and though it was wrong to pick on people because they are ginger. Harriet Harman should have known better – me too.

  • toni

    Well said Sarah, and the paltry 5% decrease in salary Cameron and co are accepting is risible compared to what’s facing most of the public. Here’s an idea for those multi millionaires on the govt. front bench; work for free until the end of this parliament in the ‘national interest’ that they’re always bleating on about, and how about giving up their spare time spent at the ‘grace and favours’? It’s not like they’ve nowhere else to park themselves, their acolytes and families is it, and I might be slightly satisfied then that ‘we’re all in it together’
    Btw, Sam’s dad is coining it in now with windmills situated over his acres, but presumably not where they can be viewed from the drawing room windows!

  • toni

    Reneging rat would have been better, and true.

  • Quinney

    Alexanders’ lucky, Nye Bevan once said that Tories were lower than vermin. Alexander is worse than any tory as his party after years of sanctimonious preaching of how progressive they are, is now propping up a bunch of Thatcherites.

  • Robert Jackson

    Nye Bevan made a bad mistake with his “vermin” speech.

    That’s why I cringed.

    Yes the LibDems must be linked to the Tories on the doorstep and it might be especially effective in Scotland. But folk voted LibDem for a reason and that is what must be attacked – not the electors who made that decision.

  • Janete

    The Daily Mail also quoted Cameron’s mortgage expenses as £21,000 for the year 2005/6. When the scandal first broke the Mail said:

    ‘George Osborne, the Tory Shadow Chancellor and heir to the Osborne and Little wallpaper empire, claimed £18,000 for his mortgage. His expenses and those of Mr Cameron stood out because they claim close to the maximum allowed and devote it almost entirely to the cost of servicing the loans to buy their constituency homes.

    Mr Cameron, who has led calls for sweeping changes to MPs’expenses, has made no secret of the fact that he uses the housing allowance to pay the mortgage on his £750,000 house in his Oxfordshire constituency.’

    Documents posted on http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk for 2007/8 show council tax bills for a band G property for D Cameron.

    Other interesting reading includes a survey bill for Danny Alexander’s
    house move (March 07) and (August 06) a bill for Nick Clegg’s garden repairs.

    But hey, as they keep reminding us, some difficult decisions have to be made and we’re all in this together!

  • Harriet may have made a small booboo.

    But “Ginger Rodent” will stick…..

    ….I think he looks like a coypu…

  • Robert Jackson

    Jackie Ashley’s Guardian article today on the importance and power of parody in politics prompts another thought.

    Nick Robinson losing it recently with a cardboard poster bobbing about behind his head was an exact copy of an incident at hustings in Middlemarch (by George Eliot).

    Lovely pricking of ego. In Middlemarch. Of course.

    Now that HH has graciously apologised we can move on with a smile but all NR has is his tantrum on film, like Boulton, both egos still hissing.

  • Cuse

    Channel 4 Dispatches “How the rich avoid paying tax” is still the story for me.

    I am stunned that the media haven’t made more of this.

    I speak as one married to a ginger. Danny Alexander is a ginger rat. A big, fat, beakerish ginger rat. Who couldn’t keep to a promise if his life depended on it.

  • Dave Simons

    Politicians are only human but I don’t think Harriet did herself or the Labour Party any credit by using playground language against Danny Alexander. Leave all that to ‘The Sun’ or Nick Griffin’s colleagues. At least she apologised, unlike that disgusting Tory MP who made a sick joke about those tragic Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay a few years back. I’m surprised Alastair thought Danny Alexander dealt with it quite well in his response, since it was just a thinly-diguised repeat of the Coalition mantra about clearing up the mess in which Labour left the country. I am glad that Danny Alexander was once a National Park Press Officer – it means he has to have some gratitude to Labour, which passed the National Parks and Countryside Act in 1949 at a time of much greater austerity than we are in now. He might also give some credit to one of the achievements of the Blair years which hardly gets mentioned nowadays – the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 – which continued the tradition of the 1949 Act.

  • Dave Simons

    Politicians are only human but I don’t think Harriet did herself or the Labour Party any credit by using playground language against Danny Alexander. Leave all that to ‘The Sun’ or Nick Griffin’s colleagues. At least she apologised, unlike that disgusting Tory MP who made a sick joke about those tragic Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay a few years back. I’m surprised Alastair thought Danny Alexander dealt with it quite well in his response, since it was just a thinly-diguised repeat of the Coalition mantra about clearing up the mess in which Labour left the country. I am glad that Danny Alexander was once a National Park Press Officer – it means he has to have some gratitude to Labour, which passed the National Parks and Countryside Act in 1949 at a time of much greater austerity than we are in now. He might also give some credit to one of the achievements of the Blair years which hardly gets mentioned nowadays – the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 – which continued the tradition of the 1949 Act.