On my wall I have the back of one of my business cards signed by Tony Blair (in Blue) and the late Tony Benn (in red). I got their autographs at a lobby for Roger Berry’s Disability Rights Private Members Bill in 1994, which failed but it was the start of a whole raft of legislation improving the civil Rights for disabled people.
The mid-1990s were an exciting time for a young disabled person as I was, and Labour was making a lot of great promises to improve the inclusion of disabled people, which they actually delivered during their 13 years in office. Even in the 2010 General Election, it was clear to see Labour was the natural friends of disabled people, but then things started to change.
Five years on and the Labour Party is a very different beast in every respect. After failing to win the last general election with a poor facsimile of Tony Blair, like a wounded animal, it now appears to be going into a long period of rage against the general public as it turns left for inspiration, ignoring the fact we all went right. I fear whether or not Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership race, the damage has already been done as Labour’s credibility is diminished.
And what does this mean for disabled people? Well it seems Labour has abandoned most of us. It narrowly sees disability as a welfare/employment issue for those who see themselves as sick and not disabled, except when they want to be disabled to get benefits. Those of us who require support and assistance are ‘helped’ under the label of ‘helping unpaid carers’, basically leaving us at the whims of our families, who have the real choice and control. And any kind of meaningful independent living and inclusion remains only accessible to those who shout the loudest, like myself.
The party’s message seems to pander to those who perceive themselves as unfit for work as a right, with negative and destructive language that should have been stamped out years ago as I am labelled as ‘the most vulnerable’. And in the background, we have Labour’s covert support for Assisted Dying, with both Shadow ministers dealing with disabled people showing their public support to allow us to ‘choose to die’.
In recent months I have encountered the left’s attitude to the meaningful inclusion of disabled people, which has to include employment in its widest meaning. I have been told that my values of inclusion are in fact neo-liberal slavery and as Kate Green MP put it bluntly ‘work for disabled people is a punishment’. So what do they expect me to do with my life? The problem is they don’t want me to do anything. This is the rhetoric of Corbynism and the greatest threat to many disabled people for a century.
Those on the ideologically utopia left of the party are pushing those of us looking forward towards the Tories. If we are abused as we were Tory by the left, we will end up believing them. Disabled people are only now welcome in the Labour party if they support their destructive exclusion rhetoric, where moral superiority overrides any open debate. Anyone in the Labour Party who believes everyone has a contribution to make to society without exception is now routinely burnt at the social media stake, since they will only tolerate people who pity disabled people, seeing social warehousing in the name of dignity and compassion as the only solution that can be offered.
Labour is no longer my natural friend, and it needs to work hard to deserve my friendship again. While many left wing ‘disabled’ activists (most of which were not active before 2010) will still argue Labour is the party for all disabled people, I believe the silent majority of disabled people will feel abandoned by them.
If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74