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Tim Bailey | 11:39 UK time, Tuesday, 3 October 2006

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, has been criticised for appearing to refer to Gordon Brown as "autistic". There was a similar complaint from a viewer of a BBC TV programme over the weekend, when a presenter also used it as a term of political description.

It's a reminder that certain conditions can be wrongly characterised in the public mind - or even if they are accurately characterised, their use can be insensitive. Other examples include "Tourettes" for being foul-mouthed, "schizophrenic" for having a split personality. And it's a reminder perhaps that people who are affected by those conditions, either directly or indirectly, can be irritated when they are carelessly used as journalistic shorthand.


  • 1.
  • At 12:21 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Larry wrote:

Surely the journalist joking about autism is the person who should be apologising in this situation, at least as much as Mr. Osbourne for seemingly deflecting the term as joking insult? After all, it was a joking insult that was originally aimed at him by a journalist!

  • 2.
  • At 12:55 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Pancha Chandra wrote:

The Shadow Chancellor was most certainly wrong in describing Gordon Brown as autistic. Misuse of words shows either callousness or ignorance. Or perhaps this was a 'political dig'. Mr Osborne should apologise for this totally inaccurate characterization. Politics should be above all this. Every intelligent person knows that Gordon is brilliant and does not suffer from autism.

  • 3.
  • At 01:24 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ramblingsid wrote:

I suppose these tory front-benchers are so forgettable that they have to resort to pretty extreme means to raise their profile in the media.

It would be easy to write this off as another gaffe by a silly Tory Boy (well they are known as the Stupid Party after all) were it not for the fact that this fool aspires to high office!

There is also the fact that this particular "witticism" has been used before by Tory politicians and commentators. Last year Gordon Brown was giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons when Mr Viggers, the MP for Gosport, said: "You are all suffering from financial autism."

Brown replied "I think you will find that is offensive to people affected by autism." Well, at least we know that Gordon is a grown up.

Their clash came a day after a right-wing commentator also used the term "autistic" to describe Mr Brown in a newspaper column.

Thus the Tories plumb new depths of political argument in trying to smear a Labour politician they must truly fear. Of course they are also known as the Nasty Party aren't they?

So that's it then.

Vote Stupid. Vote Nasty. Vote Tory.

  • 4.
  • At 01:30 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Roland Deschain wrote:

George Osborne didn't use the word "autistic". It was used by a journalist. However I don't expect the BBC to appreciate the difference.

  • 5.
  • At 01:57 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ian Williams wrote:

"George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, has been criticised for using the word "autistic" in reference to Gordon Brown."

For goodness sake, read your own story. George Osborne DID NOT USE the word 'autistic'. He was responding to its use by "a journalist".

So, 10 months of the new cuddly caring sharing tories and the mask slips, revealing the traditional ugly face behind. It's not irritating, it's offensive.

  • 7.
  • At 02:39 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • sylvia weitzman wrote:

I'm a British expat in the US. Before I moved to the US I would have definitely agreed that the word 'autistic' was unnecessary and too personal a comment. But here, in the schools, children with special needs are called 'retarded' and bright students who are a little behind in a subject are referred to a needing 'remedial' help. The disabled are called 'handicapped'. We are more advanced in our sensitivities than much larger countries in the Western world.

  • 8.
  • At 02:50 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Alison wrote:

Ehm, are you saying that autistic people can't be brilliant? That's not what I'd call intelligent...

I suppose it's because people are more aware of autism that it has become a derogatory term, as others have become in the past.

  • 9.
  • At 09:12 AM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Rey wrote:

Yet another vote for reading your own story!

It was the JOURNALIST who made the autism claim. Osbourne mearly re-directed it to GB. Pehaps a better response on his behalf would have been to tick off the journo responsible, BUT it was not Osbourne who made the claims.

I know it makes a better news story if its a politician, but it wasn't. Please don't distort facts in this way it casts doubt over ALL your reporting.

Yes, the journalist raised the possiblity of Osborne being autistic, immediately after Osborne listed a set of personality traits that may or may not be symptomatic of the condition.

It's Osborne's response, which shows he regarded it as derogatory, which is offensive.

Let's not fool ourselves into believing that Osborne holds Gordon Brown in any kind of high esteem.

  • 11.
  • At 11:32 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Ian Richardson wrote:

The comment about Autism should not be taken seriously. It is yet another example of how we have been de-nuded of the ability to laugh at ourselves and others through Political Correctness. It is not fair to accuse Gordon Brown of Autism. Autistics can be very talented in areas of art, music mathematics or language. The problem, if it is indeed such, being that, generally, they cannot explain how they know what they know or how they can do what they do. Gordon Brown is not the least bit talented in any way and he knows exactly what he has done and plans to do in the future to strangle individualism in this country.

  • 12.
  • At 11:06 AM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Harry wrote:

As Ian says, the journalist quite reasonably used the term as a question directed toward the person who described his own symptoms in a way that made it possible.

There's no problem with using the word autism, but the question was not whether he had been medically diagnosed as autistic, but whether he recognised in himself an autistic-like component, in the same way that he could be asked whether he recognised a feminine component or a child-like component.

Osborne's response was to draw away from a pseudo-medical diagnosis of himself and direct thinking toward Gordon Brown in a derogatory way as an example of someone who he saw as certainly having that "failing" in the same way that others have called him "psychologically flawed". As such, he made a link between, Gordon Brown, autism and being psychologically flawed. That's where the insult was.

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