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Does The UK Labor Party Leadership Race Highlight a Continuing Disdain for Disability?

  • Published: 2015-08-26 (Revised/Updated 2015-11-18) : Author: Paul Dodenhoff
  • Synopsis: The UK Labor party arguably considers disabled people to be fundamental different from the majority.

Quote: "Naturally and as expected, Britain's corrupt media machine has started drip-feeding misinformation to the general public about Mr Corbyn's unsuitability as a Labor leader."

Main Document

When the British Labor lost the last general election vote in May earlier this year, causing its leader Ed Miliband to resign, there was much internal weeping and wailing about what direction the party should take. The party took a real hammering in Scotland, losing all of its seats to the SNP (Scottish National Party) bar one. A defeat so heavy in numbers that even Britain's state controlled media machine, the BBC , declared that 'The scale of the SNP's rout of Labor is unprecedented' . The defeat while expected was indeed unprecedented, not only because of the scale of the defeat but also because many of those who voted SNP were arguably ex-Labor voters. In England and Wales, Labor did less well than anybody expected, although the Conservatives only kept power by a slender 12 seat majority.

In British politics, a majority that small is a highly precarious situation. However, despite the slender victory, The Conservatives, The Labor Party themselves and large parts of Britain's media circus have (curiously) represented the election result as a landslide, and as such, a vindication of the Government's handling of the country from 2010 onwards, together with an indication of public distrust towards Labor on domestic economic issues such as welfare.

The current Prime Minister, David Cameron was naturally delighted that his party had been given the green light to carry on with its demolition of Britain's welfare system and its general mistreatment of disabled people. The Labor Party despite its huge defeat in Scotland (a defeat triggered in the main by the SNP's popular anti-austerity manifesto) wailed that they would now have to become even more like the Tory's in order to win back British voters to the party. A process which they have readily begun.

However, such was the popular support for the SNP's 'anti-austerity' manifesto, which a YouGov survey taken before the election indicated that millions of people across England and Wales would have also voted for the Scottish National Party if it had stood candidates outside of Scotland. Questioning the belief that a slim political majority was a vindication that 'austerity' policies are widely supported by the British general public.

So what were these landslide results? In simple terms, the Government picked up 36.9% of the vote compared to Labours 30.4%, which equates to 11,334,576 Conservative votes compared to Labor's 9,347,304. Hardly a landslide by any means nor a vindication of the extreme austerity measures introduced by Government since 2010. Especially when considering that in terms of the overall vote, the majority of the electorate actually voted against the current Government, with a 63.1% share of the vote. As voters even turned to the smaller parties, such as The Cannabis Is Safer than Alcohol Party and The Monster Raving Loony Party , rather than putting a cross on Mr Cameron's ballot slip.

According to Britain's media circus, Labor lost the last election partly due to perceived public mistrust over Labours economic competency, and partly over a fear that Labor could regain power as a minority government propped up by a 'left wing' SNP. A situation that the Tory press argued would greatly destabilize Britain's economic future.

This analysis has prompted the Labor party to rethink its future direction, a direction that is to become increasingly 'right wing' in approach and primarily in order to win back voters from the Conservatives. Interestingly, there has been little talk within the Labor Party about developing policy that is designed to win back Scottish voters, and the 50 plus seats that they lost to the SNP just a few short months ago. Although logic would perhaps dictate that the Scotland issue was much a bigger priority for the party, particularly as these SNP voters were mainly ex-Labor voters?

Lost election. Lost hope

Losing the election came as a major blow to many disabled people. While Labor's election manifesto was pretty much an 'austerity' manifesto not dissimilar to the Conservatives, there was a slight indication that there may have been a softening of approach towards welfare policy that had impacted amongst disabled people the most, such as the dreaded 'bedroom tax'. Therefore, losing the election not only came as a blow to Labor members and Labor voters, but to all people with disabilities who feared another 5 years of Tory rule. And social media was rife with disabled people so distraught by that thought, that some were even talking about committing suicide.

To highlight the damage that this current Government has caused disabled people, a report published by Just Fair (a consortium of 80 charities that include Amnesty International) strongly voiced concern in 2014 over the treatment of disability, which was argued to be systematically violating international law on the human rights of disabled people. It's a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that has largely been driven by welfare reform that has not only intentionally or unintentionally increased hardship occurred by disabled people, but one that has also led to the deaths of disabled people, one way or another.

In June 2014, Professor Gabor Gombos, a former CRPD member duly revealed that an UN inquiry had been launched into this Government's treatment of its disabled. Professor Gombos told an International disability Law conference in Ireland that the UK had become the first country to be investigated for 'grave' violations of the human rights of disabled people. Sadly, Britain's Labor Party has largely stayed quiet over an important investigation into the alleged human rights abuses of British citizens. Arguably in order not to draw attention to the damage that their own version of 'austerity' has caused and would undoubtedly cause in the future. Britain's media also stayed predominantly quiet, including all of the major 'left wing' leaning newspapers who would normally have been expected to make a great noise over anything that could be used to 'bash' the current Government with - especially human rights issues.

However, it is the Labor party leadership campaign which is currently taking place within Britain at the moment that has continued to highlight the Labor party's ambivalence towards disability. A relationship that arguably treats disabled people as second class citizens and sometimes with detectable contempt.

What is the role of an 'opposition' party within politics?

While it is the perception of many people that it was the Conservatives who introduced the dreaded Work Capability Assessment (WCA), it was in fact a Labor Government that introduced the humiliating test way back in 2008. The test is designed and used by the Department for Work and Pensions to determine whether disabled welfare claimants or those suffering from long-term illnesses are entitled to the out-of-work sickness benefit. The thinking behind the test is to determine whether disabled people are truly unfit for employment or are basically exaggerating disability, or even faking it. Under Tory rule, WCA has raised many concerns from disability organizations over the humiliation, distress and sometimes physical pain that the test causes disabled people. Together with the after effects of inaccurate decision-making which has been argued by some to be primarily driven by Government target setting, decision-making that has also been argued to have caused many deaths.

More recently, Labor upset disabled people again by failing to vote against a Government welfare reform bill aimed at slashing a further £12 Billion off welfare spending - a reduction that could impact again predominantly upon Britain's disabled community. However, rather than voting against the bill which would have certainly killed the bill off stone dead, Labor decided to 'abstain' en masse from the vote, causing the bill to be passed by an majority of 308 votes to 124. Those who abstained from the vote included three contenders for the current Labor leadership, with Jeremy Corbyn the only candidate to vote against the bill and thereby going against the Labor whip's instructions. The reasons for this strange behavior by Britain's main 'opposition' to the Government were even stranger.

Labor argued that they abstained because although they opposed parts of the bill, some of it they actually liked - so they were caught in a position that to oppose the bill in its entirety would have looked bad to the general public by appearing not to 'listen to public opinion'. The party felt that such 'oppositional' politics had failed to win votes at the last election so bowed down to public opinion, but will seek to make amendments to the bill as it proceeds through the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the future. Well, bully for you, Labor. Although, I don't really remember Labor's election campaign being 'oppositional' in tone.

It may be just me but is there a strong smell of bulls**t drifting out from the Labor parliamentary offices these days? I'm quite sure that many of those 9,347,304 Labor supporters (both able-bodied and disabled) who voted in the last election would have preferred to have seen Labor take the same stance towards the proposed welfare reform bill as the SNP did, by opposing it outright. After the result was announced, the SNP's Pete Wishart mocked Labor by asking the Speaker of the House of Common's whether seating could be rearranged to 'designate' the SNP as the official opposition to the Government. In an lengthy debate which preceded the vote, Tim Farron also used his first Commons speech as Liberal Democrat leader to deliver a scathing attack on the Government's welfare plans, which he called 'unfair, unwise and inhuman'.

It was certainly a sad night for Labor party supporters, and one that once again highlight's Labor's dismal record as an 'opposition' party. But it also highlights its highly ambiguous relationship with disability. Apparently, Labor had to listen to 'public opinion' - fair enough. But how do we really know what public opinion is telling us? Opinion polls tell us many different things and often all at once. And what do we do if public opinion is just simply wrong, leading to widespread discrimination of the disabled?

Are disabled people not 'ordinary people' too, Liz Kendall?

Labor's relationship with disability took another strange twist during the current Labor leadership race recently. Jeremy Corbyn is a moderate, left of center candidate who has quickly become favorite amongst many Labor supporters to be its new leader. This is in spite of widespread condemnation within the party itself and within the British press over his clear anti-austerity message, and his support for the rights of disabled people. This has naturally angered the Conservative Press and strangely most of the 'Labor' press too.

Mr Corbyn comes across as a kindly old timer, a well-intentioned principled politician who speaks his mind without being coached first by Labor's spin doctors or media team in what to say or not to say. Mr Corbyn acts on his own beliefs and says what he believes, beliefs which has kept him in the House of Commons as an MP since 1983.

Despite being largely ignored by Britain's media and primarily for being a token left-wing 'fringe' candidate, and therefore considered to have no real chance of winning. Jeremy Corbyn has actually snuck under the radar of the Labor party and Britain's press to become the popular choice for both young and old, abled-bodied and disabled. So much so, that the Labor Party's membership tally increased by tens of thousands in recent weeks, primarily in order to vote in the leadership election for Mr Corbyn.

Naturally and as expected, Britain's corrupt media machine has started drip-feeding misinformation to the general public about Mr Corbyn's unsuitability as a Labor leader. The established elite within the Labor party has also come out of the woodwork to condemn Mr Corbyn for his old style 'oppositional' politics, which some argue would destroy the Labor party for ever, by making it unelectable. Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair waded into the media frenzy on Mr Corbyn, describing him almost as some kind of crossover between Che Guevara and Adolf Hitler.

All the other Labor candidates have also naturally rounded on Mr Corbyn, and are even publicly plotting a 'rebellion' or 'resistance' against him if he does get elected as Labor leader. This is part of the more sinister behavior(s) of Labor's 'elite'. Labor Party HQ has recently been combing through a list of thousands and thousands of new members who are registered to vote in the leadership race, amid fears that 'infiltrators' from other parties (left or right) have signed up to 'disrupt' the contest. An elite that is also trawling through social media in order to boot out those from the party who have been publicly critical of Labor's policies or record, and surprise, surprise, many of those most likely to vote for an 'anti-austerity' candidate. Including those members who happen to be disabled. Members who are argued not to adhere to Labor's 'aims and values'.

In effect, we have seen many disabled people who have recently joined or re-joined the party suddenly removed with little explanation, with many others having their applications rejected. One high profile example of this 'purge' is the writer, actor, comedian and disability activist, Francesca Martinez. I may be out of step here with the Labor elite but doesn't this smack of discrimination, as well as an outrageous attempt to rig a 'democratic' election?

Liz Kendall, a Labor leader candidate, further strained Labor's relationship with disability in a recent BBC news interview, in which she was apparently misquoted on social media as saying that disabled people were not 'ordinary' people. What Liz actually said was: " when the party secured a landslide victory in 1997, people thought we had a message that was, yes, for the weak and the vulnerable and for those who were suffering, but for ordinary people too."

However, while Liz Kendell was a little misquoted via social media, the underlying assumptions in her words remain the same - that disabled people are not only weak or vulnerable but are indeed different from 'ordinary' people. This sort of terminology, intentional or not, certainly separates out disability from 'normality' and does nothing to alter public opinion about the way disabled people are viewed within society. Therefore, the disabled not only become perceived as something to be cared for and looked after, but in effect a burden.

And while that may sound unfair, it highlights one of the main problems with the current Labor party. The Labor party arguably considers disabled people to be fundamental different from the 'majority'. Therefore, disabled people not only need caring for, but monitored and put under surveillance via WCA just in case they are pulling a fast one and claiming benefits they are not entitled to. Additionally, because disabled people are considered to be different by not adhering to the general aims and values of employment - they are not allowed a voice within society. And if you do not conform to the 'norm' of employment, you are treated as a threat to society and therefore not entitled to any real representation within politics. Politics that are primarily one of 'consensus'- where both the Conservatives and Labor share exactly the same 'aims and values'. It's a good job that the SNP are here to act as the main 'opposition' party, we wouldn't want Labor to go against it 'aims and values', would we?

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