Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Racism does not get benefit of the doubt

In just a few days, the outrage over Anne Marie Morris’ comments appears to have dwindled. But it was not just an expression and it cannot simply be forgotten, writes Martin Edobor

‘Now we get to the real n****r in the woodpile, which is: in two years, what happens if there is no deal?’ These were the exact words uttered by Anne Marie Morris, member of parliament for Newton Abbott at an event launching a report looking at the future of United Kingdom’s financial sector after Brexit. Earlier this week when I first heard her comments like many I was shocked, mortified and outraged.

As a person of black heritage, I was not so much offended – I have become accustomed to the use of racially charged phrases in modern political discourse. My main issue was that Morris as a public figure felt it was appropriate to use the N-word.

First of all, I have not heard the phrase ‘n****r in the woodpile’ used before, let alone understand why Morris would utilise the racist slur to describe the UK leaving the European Union without a deal at an event in parliament. Second, Morris’ nonchalance in using the term raised a red flag, indicating this may not have been the first time she used this phrase.

Soon after the news broke, Morris apologised; simply saying that her comments were ‘unintentional’ and the N-word ‘slipped out’. Following this, the Conservative party announced an urgent investigation into her remarks, with Theresa May suspending her and removing the whip. 

However, Anne Marie Morris’ apology is simply not enough. The silence from her fellow Conservative MPs is deafening. The lack of condemnation of the incident reveals that the Tory party has not learned from their past.

At the event in which the comments were made, the Conservative MP, John Redwood, was a panelist sitting beside her. It appears Redwood did not bat an eyelid when her comments were made. His lack of response indicates a much deeper problem with the Conservative party. Although publicly the Tories appear to be a more diverse and modern political party compared to a decade ago, they still have little to say when oppressive racial slurs are openly used by one of their members.

Morris is not the first member of parliament to use a racial slur, and sadly likely will not be the last. We cannot let her suspension from the Tories be the end of it all, allowing a racial slur to be forgotten by Conservative MPs with little in the way of repercussion or condemnation.

This not only alienates black and ethnic minorities, it poisons our political discourse. On social media, some have come to Morris’ aid attempting to defend her, arguing that her comments are just an ‘expression’; that the phrase ‘n****r in the woodpile’ is a commonly used term in America.

Those who attempt to brush aside Morris’ comments are simply wrong. There are no excuses that can be made for using a racially derogatory term.

In the use of the phrase, Morris revealed her underlying prejudice. The N-word did not simply ‘slip out’: she intended to use the term and fully understood what she meant. We cannot just give Morris the benefit of doubt. Her apology is not sufficient. To improve political discourse we must seek to understand why Morris thought it was appropriate to use the term and challenge any further use.


Martin Edobor is a member of the Fabian Health and Social Care Group

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Martin Edobor

is chair of the Young Fabians


  • Back in the day, Tony Blair’s Chief Whip banned me from being a council candidate in her constituency because I was mixed-race, and instead imposed her pure white office boy, who went on to lose the election itself so spectacularly that he took a distinguished councillor down with him.

  • Anne Marie Morris used an expression that had not been current in 50 or 60 years, even though she herself is only 60. But then, I have heard, this very year, Sir Nicholas Soames refer to the radio as “the wireless”. The Conservative Party may have over 40 per cent of the vote, but it does not have a mass membership. Welcome to the world of such members as it does have.

    As to the word, is there any other job in this country that one could expect to keep after having been recorded using it? This week, Diane Abbott spoke movingly of the frequency with which she and her staff were subjected to it. A motion needs to be brought, and indeed ought already have been brought, to expel Anne Marie Morris from the House of Commons. Thereby defying the Conservatives and the DUP to vote against it, although there is no reason to assume that they would wish to do so.

    I am pleased for Afzal Khan, one of several newly elected Labour MPs to have joined the front bench. But it is at times like this that we, as a country, really do miss George Galloway’s presence in the Commons. That said, Diane Abbott is still very much there. Over to her?

  • I am surprise that people feel Anne Marie Morris’ comments, which I wouldn’t be repeating because it is shameful and offensive. But I don’t see why Theresa May think she should be suspended. These is REAL TORY: THE NASTY PARTY
    Is she a scape goat, this kind of words is common with Tory sense of humour, enjoyed this type of words as use of language. Tory is in record these type of humour, if Boris has use the word they will brush it away, just as nothing happened. I believe how Tory and their Media power attacked Ed Miliband during 2015 election. They went for him by attacking his late father Ralph Miliband a well known Marxist professor. Who came to Britain as a refugee in the Second World War, fought in the Royal Navy, then became a British citizen and worked as a university professor. Yes, he had strong left-wing views, but his view for Britain was based on radical equal society. He is not enemy of Britain as described by Daily Mail. The Secretary of State for Defense Sir Michael Cathel Fallon claimed that as Mr Miliband had “stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader”. Tory never dissociate themselves for all these comments. These are Tory sense of humour, a Nasty Party out of touch. It is time Tory come clean and up-root the root of division between groups from their party.

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