The interests of disabled people are best represented by us occupying senior positions, both within the Labour party and government. Therefore, the Fabian Society’s report More to Do should be very concerning for those who want the goal of greater disability representation in politics to be achieved.
Throughout the pandemic, disabled people’s personhood and lives were devalued. We became acceptable casualties. We desperately need a Labour party able to represent us, but this report shows we are not doing enough. The research found disabled people are nearly twice as likely to be disadvantaged in the selection process for candidates, 8 percentage points more likely to experience unwelcome scrutiny into their private lives, and 20 percentage points more likely to be unable to afford to go through the selection process. Similar experiences are evident for disabled people standing to be a parliamentary candidate too. This exclusion presents a real barrier for entry and a serious threat to our movement.
The individual testimonies make for uncomfortable reading. A disabled member, who was seeking selection as a council candidate and had a number of chronic conditions, was met with confusion by the Labour Campaign Forum representative who believed it was like “a blind person asking to be a truck driver”. A wheelchair user was informed they could not stand as parliamentary candidates because “an MP needs to go everywhere”. These attitudes from Labour members are not isolated, but are all too common occurrences: I personally remember a time when a confused local officer decide to ask me about my disabilities by saying: “Why are you a spastic?” Whilst I personally wasn’t offended, as the activist in question was well meaning and clearly unaware of the implications, behaviour and actions like this create a hostile environment for disabled people. This is especially true of new members who are disabled, as they are often more easily dissuaded from participation as a result of negative experiences.
Our movement is built on the foundation of equality, equal representation, and positive liberty for everyone – and yet when it comes to our own party, we are not putting our values into action. There are no easy answers to address the problems outlined in the report, but change must happen.
We can try to change the culture of CLP meetings, by encouraging and supporting a hybrid model. Hybrid meetings allow disabled people and working parents, who often struggle to physically attend, to take part in in our internal party processes. However this is a solution which is is simple on paper, but difficult to execute in any systemic way without strong pressure applied from above and below.
The provision of additional financial assistance to disabled candidates, as a means to offset the cost of accessibility adaptations, would be a significant help, although it would require funding from already tight budgets.
The introduction of an accessibility handbook, containing guidance and best practice for disability adaptations within the party, could also massively support local officers and campaigners. It would give them access to knowledge on an alternative means of running a campaign with a disabled candidate, as well as guidance to make events and activities accessible to disabled members. It would take time and a fair amount of central party effort to mainstream such work. Disability Labour serve as a helpful tool to encourage this dialogue and deliver better procedure.
The title of the Fabian report is extremely apt. Our party has achieved a great deal to support disabled community members, but there is still much more to do to truly include us in our great movement.
Photo: Jakub Pabis on Unsplash