Wanted: That Vision Thing

The 2015 General Election, like others before it, carries the risk of the needs of disabled people being ignored for political expediency and our voices being drowned out. Andy Rickell explains what needs to happen.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” So said the writer of the biblical Proverbs 2,700 years ago. When there is no sense of shared aspirational values or goals, societies fail. History proves the writer correct.

Those words echo in my head as I contemplate the big issues as we approach the general election. With the opinion polls close and the proliferation of 6 parties who could each get more than 20 seats and/or more than 5% of the votes cast, the election is likely to be characterised by simplistic, negative messaging and what is called in the States “pork barrel politics” – specific detailed spending policies to try to get the votes of particular groups of people.

In a sense, it’s no different to many of the recent elections. The problem? Such elections provide no helpful opportunities to debate and propose solutions for the longstanding issues that have been left to fester over decades – like the positive social and economic inclusion of disabled people. Worse, the populist debate, particularly around immigration and the EU, encourages politicians to focus on the priorities of those who shout loudest or get media coverage, diverting resources yet further from the needs of those who are lower in the political pecking order like us.

There are two ways to change this. The first is, as I have said on previous occasions, to be such a vocal group that politicians have no choice but to take our issues seriously. Probably the only time we have come close to this at a general election was in 1997 when the Labour manifesto promised comprehensive civil rights, after they had seen the power of disability activism in the mid-1990s that had pressurised the previous Conservative government successfully over anti-discrimination legislation. Raising our profile is a long-term work that would benefit from being done, but in 2015 we are nowhere near that status.

The other way to get our issues on the agenda is if one of the party leaders is willing to demonstrate leadership with a genuine commitment to the full social and economic inclusion of disabled people, with some sensible proposals about how to do that. It does not even have to be about disability alone – a resourced commitment to a wider group (which includes disabled people) who are being socially and economically excluded is consistent with most political parties’ central tenets. Crucially there needs to be some sense that this is part of a wider vision from that politician, which will not be lost in the hurly-burly of government realities. That commitment then demands some response from the other parties, creating a virtuous circle for debating the issues and its solutions during election time.

Such a commitment requires a clear vision of the importance of the issue by the leader, and/or party advisors around them who understand the policy practicalities that give the leader confidence to make the commitment. The lack of experience of radical disability policy by leaders and advisors often means it falls into the too difficult box. Parties need to be willing to engage with activists when devising life-changing visionary policies.

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