This was Sunday’s shocking news:
The former equalities minister Harriet Harman was forced to apologise last night for branding the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, a “ginger rodent”.
Ms Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, admitted she had been “wrong” to use the description during a speech at the Scottish Labour conference in Oban. She also called the Liberal Democrat “the front-man for the Tory cuts”.
Her remarks were attacked for being anti-Scottish, given that 13 per cent of Scots have red hair compared with just 2 per cent of the population globally. For his part, Mr Alexander insisted he was not ashamed of his colouring. “I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind,” he said via Twitter.
A spokeswoman for the Labour Party said yesterday: “Harriet Harman has apologised for her comment about Danny Alexander and says it was wrong.”
I love the Chris Morris-style apology.
But here’s a thing I don’t get. When did “ginger” become an insult? Do you remember kids at school being bullied over it? I don’t. There were certainly kids with ginger hair. There was also teasing and bullying. But not about gingerness.
Mind you, I never remember any antisemitism directed at the Jewish kids, or racism at the black or Asian kids. We did tease one boy who claimed never have to masturbated, because it was against his religion – but the winding up was largely directed at getting him to admit that he was, in fact, lying. There was also one pretty shameful case where a boy in one of the lower streams had made a limp wristed gesture at a gay master, for which he was widely reviled.
God, what an obnoxious bunch of prigs we were.
But no. Ginger jokes were just unknown. Ditto at university. There, if you saw a girl with ginger hair, you’d think “gosh, what lovely ginger hair”, rather than “haha! she has ginger hair”.
The first time I came across ginger based comedy was in the mid 1990s, in a sitcom called Game On, which originally featured Ben Chaplin. Chaplin’s character was an inadequate, who shared a flat with Samantha Janus, and a weedy ginger headed friend, who would be teased for his gingerness. The twist was that Ben Chaplin’s character was an agoraphobic, who couldn’t leave the house.
Was this the genesis of the ginger jibe? Or did I just grow up in an oasis of follicular tolerance?