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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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