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What will Labour do for people with disabilities?

I have been very fortunate in my life to have had essential help when I have needed it and the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of others. This election is the moment when disabled people can exercise their power and make their voice heard. And today, with the launch of its disability manifesto, Labour is hoping to win their support.

Three weeks ago I stood down as an MP after 28 years in the House of
Commons, and it’s given me cause to reflect on how far disabled people’s rights and issues have come over that time.
Thirty years ago many disabled people were isolated in institutions,
and often expected to do no more than the most menial of work. Today,
we have equality legislation in place, more disabled people in public
life, and living fuller and more independent lives.
I’m proud of the role that the last Labour government played in this change, such as establishing the Disability Rights Taskforce, the dramatic extension of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Rights Commission.
But there is still so much more to do to make this a country where the
voices of disabled people are heard, their contribution is valued, and
their right to live a full and fulfilling life is made a reality. In too many of these areas, David Cameron’s government took us backwards.
Employment among disabled adults is still stuck at around 30% below
the rate of the working age population overall, and fewer than one in
ten disabled people who go through the Work Programme get a job.
The Work Capability Assessment is causing huge stress and anxiety, and delays in processing Personal Independence Payments have left
thousands of disabled people waiting months for support. This has been
particularly the case where assessments have failed to acknowledge
serious mental health conditions, despite rhetoric to the contrary.
On top of this, hundreds of thousands of disabled people, and 60,000
carers, are being hit by the Bedroom Tax, with many falling in to debt
in order to stay in their homes.
Labour will take action to improve the lives of disabled people. We will overhaul the Work Capability Assessment, involving disabled people in reviewing its effectiveness, and introduce a specialist Work Support programme to provide tailored support to disabled people who want to work.
We’ll support disabled people to live independently by giving them an
entitlement to a personal care plan designed with them and shaped
around their needs, the option of personal budgets where appropriate, and a single named person to coordinate care. We will abolish the bedroom tax.
But perhaps most importantly, we’ll toughen up the law on disability
hate crime to give greater security to disabled people, who not only feel stigmatised and even threatened by the Tories’ rhetoric around ‘scroungers, but face a rising tide of abuse. And we’ll make sure that disabled people have a voice at the heart of government, as part of a cross-government committee to develop disability policy.
I believe these policies demonstrate Labour’s commitment to disabled people, promoting self-help supported by mutual help. And with excellent disabled candidates such as Emily Brothers in Sutton and Cheam, Mary Griffiths Clarke in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Anne Begg - who has championed disability issues as a Labour MP for the past 18 years, it is to be hoped that disabled people will have a strong voice in our government.
I have been very fortunate in my life to have had essential help when I have needed it and the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of others. This election is the moment when disabled people can exercise their power and make their voice heard. And today, with the launch of its disability manifesto, Labour is hoping to win their support.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.