Labour launch their main manifesto. Photo:Getty
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Labour's disability manifesto: why are disabled people an afterthought?

 Labour will get the disabled vote if only to keep the Tories out. However, the crux of disabled living issues is that currently, disability inherently means poverty. I want to see plans for a country where I can earn like my my non-disabled peers, own my own home like my non-disabled peers - have a life, a family, a future like my non-disabled peers. This election, this vision of equality seems too much to ask.

For the past five years disabled people across the UK have been living in fear of the gentle 'phut' of a brown DWP envelope on their doormat. Benefit cuts, evictions, and ATOS assessments declaring people 'fit for work' have led to misery and poverty for the disabled population. As up to 16 per cent of working age adults, we represent a significant proportion of the electorate, so when the Labour party finally published ‘A better future for disabled people: mini-manifesto’ I thought we were in for a treat.

With five years in opposition to develop their position, however, the best it can be described as is cautious. Rather than policies paving the way for ‘a better future for disabled people’ this document is, as one DPAC member put it, “limp” - a paper promising to undo some of the reign of terror experienced by disabled people at the hands of the coalition but having few aspiration for the futures of disabled people beyond this.

One very welcome policy that stands out as a firm promise in a sea of wishy-washy proposals with no real action plan is the abolition of the under-occupancy penalty. Two thirds of the people penalised under the so called ‘Bedroom Tax’ are disabled people who needed their extra bedroom for their overnight carers or bulky medical equipment. Many people have faced the painful choice of losing their homes or going into debt. The discriminatory policy will not be missed, however the manifesto does not address how it will make amends to those who have gone into debt due to the policy and for people who have already been forced out into bedsits and smaller properties there is the question of what they can do now? In short, this policy is ‘too little, too late’.

A not so welcome policy claims to ‘overhaul’ the Work Capability Assessment. The WCA has made regular headlines over the course of the coalition, with the deaths of disabled people found ‘fit for work’. It has caused endless stress and worry to all ESA claimants and for some, has meant hunger and severe poverty. The voice of disabled people on this issue is united: reforming WCA is not enough. We want it scrapped.

Work is a central theme of the Labour party’s main manifesto so unsurprisingly there is much talk of getting 'into work' and support - but what will this support look like and what does 'support' even mean? Again we are left to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations. All parties want to get disabled people into work but little mention is made of finding us meaningful employment and fulfilling careers. ‘Work’ gets people off the more expensive benefits, whereas meaningful employment going beyond low and unskilled opportunities is where equality truly lies. As experts in illness why aren’t we supported to train as clinicians? Or as victims of injustice helped to train as lawyers?

A key message of the mini-manifesto is that Labour want to work with us in finding the solutions, yet I can see no evidence of them having consulted any disabled people’s organisations in the making of this document. Granted the authors have impairments but as MPs have not been subject to austerity measures and have escaped the poverty and disrespect that prevents us from achieving equality.

It's not hard to ask people what they want. The people I've spoken to want protection for the Independent Living Fund, an admission of our suffering and scapegoating throughout the cuts process, and the end of Work Capability Assessment in any form. These will be a start in getting us back to what we had achieved towards equality in pre-austerity times.

In terms of the big three parties (is that the big four now? Or five, six, or seven?) Labour will get the disabled vote if only to keep the murderous Tories out. However, the crux of disabled living issues is that currently, disability inherently means poverty. I want to see plans for a country where I can earn like my my non-disabled peers, own my own home like my non-disabled peers - have a life, a family, a future like my non-disabled peers. This election, this vision of equality seems too much to ask. With a new wave of hate and ‘scrounger’ rhetoric to combat, aiding disabled people is a potentially risky political move. Indeed, the most notable thing about the mini-manifesto is that is exists at all – why don’t disabled peoples’ issues make the grade for the “real” manifesto?  

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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.