The Sketch: How sensible debate is strangled by taboos

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The Independent Online

That nana Sion Simon kept "counselling" people not to "talk down" the economy. It's the new way of countering (or suppressing) criticism. If you stand up and welcome spending on apprentices and call for more spending – he accuses you of "talking the economy down". Labour's David Taylor was rebuked for saying that management of large projects wasn't the most glittering success of the public service. He got it as well. "Talking it down."

So now, along with warning about a currency crash, there are a whole range of things you can't argue for in Parliament. Smacking children. The benefits of prostitution. Short-sellers – heartless but heroic. Why recessions are necessary. There's something about the place that stops the argument being made.

"Some children need to be walloped by some parents," just doesn't work against the collective intake of breath and the heavy incoming that will follow. Or, "the prostitutes I know live very respectable lives!" You can't imagine – oo, I don't know – Sir Nicholas Winterton saying that. And a Tory would render useless three years of decontamination by saying, "it was short selling that finally 'called time' on the escalating credit boom, not gutless governments or central banks."

No, these assertions can't be made in the Commons if you value your standing. On the contrary, you have to be Claire Curtis-Thomas and urge the Government "to squash once and for all the appalling rhetoric" of the Prostitutes' Collective. Or Denis MacShane expostulating about "dutty" men in massage parlours. Their unpleasant assertions are beyond criticism. No MP could say, "I can imaginea prostitute putting her children through private school in a way she couldn't if she were a cleaner for the NHS." Your career would be over.

Equally, real discussion of the real economy is neutered by having to pussyfoot around it. Poor George Osborne couldn't get across the idea that it isn't the job of financial markets to help people without handing the PM a Goebbular propaganda line. Ditto John Maples on recessions. It's reasonable to assert that recessions are as necessary as winter. If they aren't sharp enough, all sorts of germs and pests get through instead of being killed off.

But you say so at your peril because the Prime Minister will light on it and use it to show you're a cold-hearted, flint-faced Tory demanding your Workers' Bones soup at your preferred temperature.

So, John Maples – who is what you think of when you cast around for decent Tories – stood up to apologise for saying "the recession has to run its course". The PM had picked up on it twice so Maples had to rephrase it for acceptability. We wouldn't get back to healthy growth until private debt had been paid off, he said. But the moral opportunities of recession? Literally unspeakable in the Commons.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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