Nick Clegg has apologised for using the word “nutters” to describe the conservatives’ East European allies in the 22nd April leaders’ debate: ”I am acutely aware that the stigma of mental health causes great distress to many people and my use of language that could be considered derogatory was entirely unintentional.”
This seems a bit strange, because much of the language used in these events is pre-planned. Also, only four weeks before the debate, the mental health charity Rethink obtained an agreement from Mr Clegg, together with the other leaders, not to use “mental health slurs” during the election campaign (1).
Less than a year ago the former Labour minister, Denis MacShane, made exactly the same point about the Conservative allies, but using the more derogatory “loonies and wierdos”. This was in the House of Commons, where there appears to be a guideline against “insulting, coarse, or abusive language”, but perhaps significant is the qualification “particularly as applied to other Members [of Parliament]” (2).
Back in 2006 David Cameron talked about UKIP as being “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”. UKIP’s Nigel Farage demanded an apology over the racism allegation, but interestingly he said that “fruitcakes and loonies” was fine, because “we have a sense of humour”.
So Nick Clegg may have thought that his own language was an improvement on “loonies”.
(2) Some Traditions and Customs of the House: House of Commons Information Office. January 2009