Matthew Norman on Monday: Cameron may be on to something with his Tourette's analogy


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The Independent Online

In the matter of Ed Balls and Tourette's, David Cameron clearly spoke without thinking. I refer not to his description of frontbench life as being "like having someone with Tourette's permanently sitting opposite you", but to yesterday's hurried apology. Exhaustive research, conducted over almost two minutes, suggests the PM may have been right. According to Luc de Nil, a speech defect academic at Toronto University, there may be a link between Tourette's and stammering of the sort Mr Balls eventually mastered, with possibly one in three sufferers also stuttering in childhood.

A more widely recognised symptom is exaggerated blinking, meanwhile, and I need hardly remind you that, until he overcame this with a heroic act of will, Mr Balls was fondly known as Blinky. Factor in the involuntary gestures (that "flatlining" hand movement, for instance) and repetitive blurting of phrases, and the anecdotal evidence stacks up.

"Misconceptions about this tic disorder are customary," observes Dr Samuel H Zinner, a Washington University paediatrician of the belief that all Tourette's sufferers swear like Malcolm Tucker. In fact, "it often goes un- or misdiagnosed". The PM should withdraw his apology pending further investigations.

Balls made cuts, too

If and when the diagnosis is confirmed, Ed Miliband will have to cease persecuting his shadow Chancellor. "Look," he declared of Mr Balls last week, "Ed is the guy who invented the spending freeze, 1997-98."

This is half true. Ken Clarke, as Chancellor, jokily "invented" a freeze he had no intention of observing himself, purely as a trap. Mr Balls, as Gordon Brown's best little helper, blundered into it. In defiance of the alternative suggested by a booming economy, the NHS was starved of cash for New Labour's first two years, with thousands unnecessarily dying for the lack of heart surgery, cancer treatment and organ transplants.

Why Milibandroid the Younger wishes to remind us that Mr Balls is morally guilty of mass manslaughter is beyond me. And just when the boys seemed to be playing so nicely.

Murdoch vindictive? Surely not

As for Little Ed's typo upon Bob Holness's passing, The Sun and The Times did well to treat "Blackbusters" as a major story. Neither paper will have guessed that party leaders tend to delegate tweeting to junior officials, while it goes without saying that their glee had nothing to do with vengefulness occasioned by Little Ed's anti-Murdochian stance of last summer. It has never been the Murdoch titles' way to "work to the Führer" by prosecuting his personal feuds, as Anne Diamond would happily confirm.

Just the man to sort Tony's tax

How sad to see the unhealthy fixation with Mr Tony Blair's financial arrangements survive the change of year. The Sunday Telegraph has examined accounts filed by one of his élite stable of 39,272,307 companies and partnerships and discovered he is paying tax at an almost Vodafonic rate.

On earnings of about £12m, of which £8m is unaccounted for, his Windrush Ventures paid only £315,000. The only way to end all this mischievous speculation is a full audit of his concerns, under the aegis of someone especially au fait with the complexities of corporate taxation. Perhaps Gordon could carve the time from his schedule of parliamentary duties?

* Sincere sympathies to Steve McNamara, spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, over Diane Abbott's attack. She had the gall to suggest some drivers still struggle to notice when hailed by black people. The thought of it. On behalf of his members, Mr McNamara countercharges Ms Abbott with racism, and not a soul was reminded of the conventional confusion of kitchen utensils as to their own pigmentation.

* I am alarmed to find Jeremy Clarkson in trouble again, for using his reliably Wildean Sun column to jape about the Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay. Some will wonder if this racist hilarity is a tic hinting at a neurological disorder. At the next Chipping Norton Set reunion, Mr Cameron might lavish his diagnostic genius on his pal.