Autism should never be used as a political insult

We condemned George Osborne; we should condemn France's Europe minister, too

When George Osborne suggested that Gordon Brown could be "faintly autistic" there was justified outrage. The shadow chancellor was rebuked by Labour and Lib Dem politicians and other public figures, including Nick Hornby, who memorably remarked: "George Osborne doesn't seem to have noticed that most people over the age of eight no longer use serious and distressing disabilities as a way of taunting people."

Osborne wasn't the first. The Tory MP Peter Viggers, now best known for his duck house, was forced to apologise when he described Brown as "financially autistic".

Now the French minister for Europe, Pierre Lellouche, speaking to the Guardian, has accused William Hague of a "bizarre autism" in their discussions. The increasing use of autism as a political pejorative is disturbing. If we allow conditions such as this to be used as synonyms for social and political ills, we create a new layer of prejudice against sufferers.

The same applies to other mental or physical conditions. I won't use "sclerotic" to refer to a stagnant economy. I won't use "schizophrenic" to describe variable weather.

It is essential for the liberal left to condemn Lellouche (however reasonable his other remarks) as strongly as it condemned Osborne. Anything else, and past complaints will just look like political opportunism.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era