There has been recent controversy in the United Kingdom regarding the use of the term “ni**er in the woodpile” being used in parliament by Newton Abbey MP Anne Marie Morris. Aside from being a highly bizarre and unusual term to use in the 21st century, Morris had used the idiom to describe the threat of leaving the European Union with a trade deal at a launch of a report into the Britain’s financial sector. But what does this term actually mean?
This term originated in the United States to refer to fugitive slaves hiding under piles of firewood on freight trains, which frustrated the railroad workers who were responsible for the cargo onboard. It made its way to the British parliament for the first time in 1922, when Scottish Unionist politician Walter Elliot used the term in a debate regarding the importation of livestock from British colonies. More recently however, former prime minister David Cameron was embarrassed by one of his Conservative peers in 2008 when Lord Dixon-Smith uttered the term in a parliamentary debate, causing similar controversy. There have been numerous other bizarre terms used in parliament over the years too; let’s have a look at them..
“White Ni**ers from Germany”
Used in a 1865 debate in regards to Army recruitment, Mr Vincent Scully was concerned about the rate of emigration after the Irish Famine, particularly in regards the lack of manpower in the British military. Scully bizarrely warned that this “might some day lead to the importation of shiploads of white ni**ers from Germany” in lieu of this hypothesis. The term “white ni**er” was used disparagingly to refer to Irish Roman Catholics from the first rumblings of an Irish independence movement up until the end of the Troubles in the late 20th century. Curiously, it was used in 1979 anti-war hit ‘Oliver’s Army’ by Elvis Costello and the Attractions:
In a curious post-war 1949 parliamentary debate concerning the banning of films in Singapore, Creech Jones, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was asked how many motion pictures were not allowed to be screened on the island. It turned out that “Captain Boycott,” “Against the Wind,” “Night Beat,” “I Became a Criminal,” “Good Time Girl,” and “No Orchids for Miss Blandish.” were all deemed unpalatable. Stepney Mile End MP Philip Piratin then asked whether “Malayans are too civilised or because they are uncivilised that they cannot be allowed to see “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”. Just for the record, the film in question has some atrocious acting. Check out the trailer for two minutes of your life you will never get back:
‘Inherent Sexuality Amongst Asiatic and African Peoples’
In a 1953 debate bizarrely entitled ‘Colonies and Backwards Areas (Development), British ministers were aware that the British Empire was crumbling away and would nearly disappear by the end of the decade. Therefore, they saw fit to see ways to garner the last bit of influence they could be suggesting ways to stem the sexual habits of their colonial subjects. Leyton MP Reginald Sorenson suggested that there is “more inherent sexuality among the Asiatic and African peoples”, and hinted to “adopt artificial means to prevent sexual results”; clearly referring to compulsory sterilization. Fellow Kingston Upon Hull MP Richard Law responded to Sorenson’s suggestion, stating “Whatever the method, it is quite clear that unless there is a change in the sexual habits of these people, nothing which we or anyone else can do can avail them any good at all.”. Ahh, the last vestiges of empire…
In November 1936, parliament held a debate simply entitled “Half-Caste Children”, Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman-Allen asked the Minister of Labour “whether his attention has been drawn to the increasing number of half-caste children in Cardiff, Liverpool, Glasgow, and other ports.. who are the result of miscegenation”. This led to a comment by Liverpool MP David Logan asking “Are the words “half-caste” a misprint? Should it not be “half-fed”?”, in what appears to be a gross generalisation of mixed-race children in Britain’s biggest cities. Similarly, the Minister for Labour Ernest Brown appeared to have found the question uncomfortable and stated on three occasions that he would “complete (my) inquiries”.
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