Ukip activists are aggressively defensive about their party's attitude to the disabled. Photo: Getty
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Ukip should examine its own record over a disability “tirade”

There’s a lot of intellectualising about Ukip at present, but a simple truth is that they’re not very nice people.

A toad, a lying piece of excrement, vile, thick, a “dick”, dangerous, supporting “paedos, gang and child rape”, a “dog,” hateful, a “vile excuse for a human being”.

These are just some of the more polite (and hence printable) insults thrown at me by some 500 Ukip representatives and supporters in an apparently organised attack through social media this week.

I’m either Trotskyite or fascist, they say (difficult to comprehend how those two go together).

Although I regard it as pathetic, many people would find sinister their messages to me saying they are “looking forward to my demise”, “the sooner extinct, the better” and I’ve got “nowhere to hide”.

What has generated all this manufactured fury?

It seems they’ve noticed a two-week-old comment in which I drew attention to a blog by the protest group Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC), who are by two-thirds victims of the iniquitous bedroom tax, which lambasted unsavoury and offensive statements about disabled people made by Ukip candidates or in Ukip policy.

The article showed how Ukip defended the right of one of their local candidates who they described as “excellent” to argue for forced abortion of disabled foetuses; how their 2010 manifesto contained proposals for learning disabled people to be put in segregated communities, and how Ukip’s leader personally said another local candidate could not stand for the party because of his physical disability.

DPAC carefully referenced these claims, and I saw that each was based on reporting by independent journalists in national media, where Ukip had been given a right of reply and to correct any factual inaccuracy.

Nevertheless, the blanket denials and torrent of abuse from Ukip against me for simply drawing attention to the article continues unabated.

Although those sending the messages profess to care about disabled people, without a jot of irony or self-awareness, one declares me to be a “loony”.

But that’s hardly surprising when one of their MEPs who’s bothered to ask me directly about this, is the very same one who the parliamentary record shows used the word “autistic” in a pejorative way to attack a political opponent.

So what does all this say about Ukip and its supporters?

That too many of them appear to hold offensive and discriminatory views against disabled people.

That they embrace an unbelievable hypocrisy by repeatedly defending their own statements as “free speech”, while denouncing the right of those of us who disagree with them to do the same.

That they have been cushioned by the free ride they have enjoyed for too long in the British media, and are totally unused to being held to public account for their views and conduct, in a way other parties standing for election always have.

Ukip members should be angry if they really cared about disabled people. They should share the rage of disabled people who are by two-thirds of the victims of the iniquitous bedroom tax, have suffered the indignity of Atos “fit-for-work” tests unfit for a civilised society and that families with disabled members have been made five times worse off than others by this government’s spending and benefit cuts which the Hardest Hit coalition calculated has taken £9bn out of the pockets of Britain’s disabled people.

The newly-elected cohort of Ukip MEPs could share my own anger about Britain’s record, when comparing it to the increases in disability benefits in France and Belgium despite austerity measures, in a laudable attempt to protect disabled people from the worst ravages of the economic crisis.

But instead all we see is a mock anger from Ukip, defending the indefensible within their own party, and attacking a group like Disabled People Against The Cuts who – by the way – have robust criticisms of all parties, including Labour.

To make my own position clear.

I worked with a disability charity for nine years before being elected to the European Parliament and am unapologetically a lifelong campaigner for disability rights.

As either chair or vice-chair of Europe’s all-party Disability Rights Group of MEPs continuously since first being elected, I have and will always hold out the hand of friendship to other parties who sincerely want to work together to improve the rights of disabled people.

But like any other equalities campaigners, if I see or hear discriminatory actions or behaviour, then there is an obligation to challenge them.

Richard Howitt is the Labour MEP for the East of England and vice-chair of the European Parliament All-Party Disability Rights Group of MEPs

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.