Councillor who called for disabled children to be "put down" is re-elected

Voters of Cornwall: why?

Colin Brewer, Independent councillor for Cornwall, hit the headlines earlier this year when he suggested disabled children were costing too much and should be “put down.”

Last week, he was re-elected.

That’s right. There’s a politician in this country who thinks the answer to cash-strapped local authorities is murdering the community’s weakest children and there are voters who heard this and thought “you know what, I’m going to re-elect that guy.”

Back when his remarks first went public, I could see the appeal of Brewer; a sort of inept faux Nazi who had the air of a man who didn’t know where he was. It took him a year and half after making the original claim to admit he’d done anything wrong. Even then, he couldn’t decide on the reason for his pro-child murder policy, putting it simultaneously down to having a bad day, being “hot under the collar” after a budget cuts meeting, and wanting to start a debate.

Perhaps the people of Wadebridge East, Cornwall decided they wanted to hear that debate. Something along the lines of lowering council tax versus killing some of their children. (Or perhaps that’s it. Brewer, I’m guessing, didn’t talk about killing their children. Their children are normal and considerably cheaper.)

Meanwhile, voters in Chichester decided not to re-elect John Cherry. The now ex-Conservative councillor had come under fire for responding to plans for a new academy in the area by warning that the pupils would be “97% black or Asian” and as such would want to “escape into the forest” in “a sexual volcano.” He was promptly kicked out by his Party and then by the people.

The voters of Cornwall might want to take notice. Democracy is great. It means anyone, no matter how vile, can become a candidate for election. It also means that when that candidate talks about killing disabled children as if they’re less than a stray dog on a slab, voters can use the ballot box to tell him to fuck off. Perhaps next time eh, Cornwall?

Ballot papers are counted. Photograph: Getty Images

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.