DUNCAN BARKES Public figures should still feel able to speak their minds

The comments by Lord Young and Howard Flight, two senior Conservatives who were forced to quickly apologise for their remarks, once again shows how boring and bland many of today’s politicians have become. It also demonstrates how being ‘outraged’ has become a national pastime.

Lord Young pointed out that low mortgage rates had seen many insulated from the true effects of 
the recession. He suggested we ‘never had it so good’.

Howard Flight inferred the UK’s benefits system encouraged the poor to ‘breed’. While the use of certain words was certainly ill-advised, it can be argued that both men were actually right in the general thrust of their remarks.

Had our mortgage rates been higher, many more people would have lost their homes. And I certainly believe that for some our welfare system is no longer seen as a safety net, but more of a hammock that underwrites a certain lifestyle.

Howard Flight, who many readers will know was the MP for Arundel and the South Downs until 2005, copped both barrels from the media and the opposition.

Some suggested he should lose his recently-awarded peerage, while others fell back on the familiar accusation that today’s government are ‘the same nasty old Tories’.

In the wake of the furore surrounding his comments Lord Young resigned from his post as an adviser to the prime minister on matters of business and enterprise.

When a politician of any political persuasion makes a statement or remark which deviates from the politically-correct line it will inevitably make headlines. But should they be forced to apologise?

We now live in an age where providing the right soundbite and projecting the right image is key, resulting in increasingly-benign politics and waffle that lacks sincerity and conviction.

I blame Tony Blair and New Labour who were the architects of this current climate. However, Cameron and Clegg have to take responsibility for sustaining it with this almost hysterical overreaction to anything said by a Conservative or Lib Dem MP, lord, councillor or activist. Heaven forbid someone upset the applecart!

Of course public figures should perhaps think more carefully before opening their gobs, but they should not be condemned out of hand for their views.

Today’s politicians are all as beige as a B&Q neutrals paint chart. The few who dare so much as whisper a colourful remark are swiftly slapped down. No, of course they don’t want to give the opposition any ammunition, and yes, it’s probably a good idea to keep a tight rein on certain rebels, but Cameron and Clegg need to adopt a more pragmatic approach.

We live in a country where some people love nothing more than to be offended or outraged. It is these plonkers who are strangling common sense and freedom of speech. They are also the vocal minority who kick off at the slightest hint of controversy.

I find colourful politicians refreshing. We need more straight talking and less PC lingo.