Harriet Harman: ginger rodent joke was ‘wrong’

Oct 31, 2010
Gavin Mortimer

Labour deputy leader accused of being anti-Scottish as she insults Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander

So Harriet Harman has got a sense of humour after all, just not a very sophisticated one. The deputy leader of the Labour Party - dubbed Harriet Harperson by her colleagues for her love of political correctness - has been forced to apologise after describing Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (above left), as a "ginger rodent".

In a speech to the Scottish Labour conference Harman (above right), a former equalities minister, joked: "Now, many of us in the Labour Party are conservationists - and we all love the red squirrel - but there is one ginger rodent which we never want to see again in the Highlands - Danny Alexander."

Harman's gag was part of an attack on the effect of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition north of the border and she went on to say that: "Without asking anyone in Scotland, the government has been carrying out a programme of genetic modification - political genetic modification.

"This mutation has contaminated every Lib Dem councillor, it's affected every Lib Dem MP and Lib Dem MSP. They've all mutated into something alien to Scotland: Tories. There's only one thing to do: these political mutants must be got rid of next May in the ballot box."

But while the conference hall at Oban reverberated to the sound of laughter at Harman's rodent quip, elsewhere it went down less well, inducing the sort of humourlessness for which Harman is renowned.

"There are no depths to which the Labour Party will not stoop," fumed George Lyon, the Scottish Liberal Democrat election chairman, adding: "They aren't fit to be in opposition, let alone in government. Instead of throwing personal abuse at the Liberal Democrats, Harriet Harman should be apologising for the shocking financial mess her government created."

And Nationalist MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville warned that with the number of redheads in Scotland (people not rodents), Harman was in danger of straying into racist territory: "[The] silly remark isn't anti-Danny or anti-Lib Dem, it's anti-Scottish," claimed the ginger-haired Somerville. "Coming from the doyenne of po-faced political correctness, these remarks show she and Labour have lost the plot since losing the election. There's a mountain of issues people can criticise Danny Alexander for but childish abuse about his appearance reveals Labour have little to say about the real issues of Westminster cuts."

Alexander, the Liberal MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, seemed to take the insult in his stride – or should that be scamper – tweeting: "I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind. Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour."

Harman later issued an apology of sorts, saying in a statement she had been "wrong" to insult Alexander, but that won't lessen the embarrassment felt in Labour circles. Harman's remark comes in the same month Parliament passed its Equality Act, a bill she championed in her fanatical desire to put an end to what she calls "entrenched discrimination" in the workplace.

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