After HuffPost UK revealed a Tory MP had described Brexit’s “n***** in the woodpile”, people debated whether her age could help explain why she said it.
Anne Marie Morris, 60, has been suspended by the Tories over what she said but some suggested it was not so bad as older people are more likely to have grown up at ease with the phrase and the N word.
The evidence doesn’t support the notion 60-year-old politicians missed out on political correctness.
As far back as 1968, politicians were condemning the phrase, which was coined in American Deep South in the 19th century, in reference to fugitive slaves trying to escape.
In that year, MP Tom Iremonger, said it but then added: “But that is a vulgar and old-fashioned expression.”
That was nearly 50 years ago or, for context, when Anne Marie Morris was 10.
In 1978, an MP said it was “deplorable and disgraceful” to use the phrase.
During a discussion on racial hatred, Conservative MP Robert Adley said: “We do not appear to have had any reaction from them about the deplorable and disgraceful comment of the Foreign Secretary in Brussels.
“In relation to the European Assembly Elections Bill, he said that Britain was not the n***** in the woodpile. Is not that deplorable?”
The Foreign Secretary at the time was David Owen, who went on to lead the Social Democratic Party and now sits in the Lords.
Later, a Labour MP was apparently remonstrated for using the phrase in 1984.
The late Ted Leadbitter, who represented Hartlepool, was discussing the Civil Aviation Authority. “The n***** in the wood-pile is the CAA,” he began.
After what Hansard records as ”[interruption]”, Leadbitter said: “That expression is part of the vernacular of my area.”
In 1993, Labour MP Bernie Grant, who was black, proposed a motion condemning Tory John Townend for using the phrase on television.
His motion was that “his House is appalled by the use of the term ‘n***** in a woodpile’ by the honourable Member of Bridlington on BBC Television’s Westminster Live Programme... is reminded of the derogatory origins of this phrase, and is aware of the offensiveness of such language to Britain’s black community; and calls upon the honourable Member to make an apology to that community for his racist language.”
Then House of Commons leader Tony Newton replied that he was “quite sure that he did not intend to give racist offence in the way that is suggested”.
In 2003, the late Lib Dem Lord Mackie used the phrase while discussing Iraq then added: “If such an expression is allowed any more.” He appears to have escaped censure.
But in 2008, Lord Dixon-Smith, then Tory spokesman for communities and local government, used the phrase and was upbraided as soon as he finished speaking.
“I think it would perhaps be helpful if the wording of the phrase were revised,” another Tory Lord said.
“I apologise, my Lords. I left my brains behind. I apologise to the House,” Lord Dixon-Smith said.