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.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories