Foot-in-mouth catching

Gayle watches with interest as politicians across britina come down with sudden cases of foot-in-mouth syndrome

EARLY October seems to have seen some kind of harvest festival of gaffes and crass comments in the news. It seems that politicians and celebrities rush in where angels fear to tread - feet first into controversy.

As someone who has been known to suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome myself, there is an uncomfortable fascination in reading what other people have said.

A Somerset vicar, Rev Michael Wishart, came in for criticism after he wrote in the parish newsletter that, with autumn coming on: “there is a little nip in the air. Which is what they said when they hanged the Japanese criminal.”

The diocese said no disciplinary action will be taken against him, as no-one has made an official complaint.

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Boris Johnson, at the Conservative party conference, complained about new regulations, insisting that children should have properly fitted car seats and restraints. “ When I was growing up, we all bounced around like peas in a rattle - did it do us any harm?” he asked.

Boris is cultivating a reputation as a loveable buffoon, but even he must be aware of the tragic number of road deaths where children were not safely belted in.

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Another attack on road safety measures came from Jane Earl, head of the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA). Last year the ARA, which was set up to recover money deemed to be the proceeds of crime, spent £15 million to recover £4 million of assets. Ms Earl said: “We're not about raising revenue, like speed cameras - we're here to make the public feel safer.” In some circles, her comment might be considered utterly uncontroversial. Personally, I think she should be hauled over the coals, if not sacked, for making such an irresponsible remark.

But the biggest can of worms was opened by Jack Straw when he suggested that the full face veil adopted by some Muslim women was a barrier to communication.

Some say this is an unjustified attack on Muslim sensibilities. Others say it is a problem that does need to be discussed. Britain is not a society where women live a gender segregated home life and go veiled on the street.

We are pre-programmed to study faces and facial expressions, even as newborn babies. Covering the face can be interpreted as an anti-social act, a rejection of and withdrawal from social interaction. We are asked to accept that it is a human right for women, justified on the grounds of modesty.

To me, it sounds like an infringement of their freedom to teach women that God wants them to swathe their faces in cloth.

How acceptable would it be for men, of any political, ethnic or religious back ground to wear full face masks? The images which spring to mind are bank robbers, ninja warriors, IRA snipers in balaclavas. Young men aren't even allowed to wear hoodies or baseball caps in pubs in case their faces are obscured from CCTV cameras.

Whatever individual women decide to wear, there is no question that a veiled face is as much a bar to communication as a closed door.

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