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  1. Politics
5 November 2009

Autism should never be used as a political insult

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

By George Eaton

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.

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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.

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