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Expert comment: Time to turf out disablism in politics

The impact of the Leave.EU’s derogatory ‘Turf out the dwarf’ campaign aimed at MP John Bercow is discussed by postgraduate teaching fellow in Disability and Education Dr Erin Pritchard.

The Leave.EU campaign has created a campaign entitled, “Turf out the dwarf”. Set up and funded by businessman Arron Banks, the campaign describes the House of Commons speaker John Bercow MP as a dwarf, followed by a photo-shopped image of him being thrown by several men. The image is taken from a scene in the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, where several bankers take part in a dwarf throwing competition. Dwarf throwing is a derogatory form of lowbrow entertainment that only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes associated with dwarfism. Treating someone with dwarfism as an object to be thrown for the entertainment of others, is dehumanising.

The campaign was a retort towards John Bercow who has insisted that Donald Trump cannot address parliament. Trump is no stranger to mocking disabled people. He has recently been criticised for mocking a disabled reporter. Yet, the Turf out the dwarf campaign has received little attention, despite the large focus surrounding Brexit. Dwarfs are often used in various forms of entertainment where it would not be tolerable to use other minority groups, including other disabled people. This may be why the campaign slogan has received little attention in wider media sources. Dwarfism is acceptable to mock, whether it is in the street or within politics.

It is not the first time John Bercow MP has been insulted using the term ‘dwarf’. In 2010, Conservative MP Simon Burns called Bercow a ‘stupid, sanctimonious dwarf’. Again this received little attention. As a dwarf I am not offended by the term itself, but rather the fact that others can use it freely as a form of insult. Using the term dwarf as a form of insult only further encourages society to believe that a disability is undesirable and tolerable to mock.

Whilst it probably would not be surprising to hear someone from the leave campaign claiming the objection to the slogan being ‘political correctness gone mad’, what they often fail to consider, or even care about, is the implication this type of media can have on dwarfs in society. I have experienced first hand distasteful comments towards my dwarfism from people in society. These comments are often influenced by media representations of dwarfs.  I would rather if people, especially those within politics who are meant to be representing the people of the UK, did not provoke disablism and instead debated on matters in a more mature way.

Those associated with the leave campaign are expected to act with some level of professionalism. Mocking someone, instead debating their view, only serves to demonstrate their lack of professionalism and calls into question their position of power. Not only does the campaign demonstrate a lack of professionalism, but it also supports the view of the leave campaign being riddled with distaste and a lack of respect towards minority groups. 


Picture: By Office of John Bercow (Private office) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Published on 20/03/2018