Backing a disability manifesto
I often am asked why aren’t there more disabled people in political office. The answer is a complicated one with factors such as not all selection meetings are in accessible venues or they think the campaign would be to exhausting for them. The underlying cause of it all though is that political parties are not accessible to disabled people and others. By access I do not mean physical access but I mean access to understanding what a party stands for. This is important because if a person does not relate to a party’s views then they will not join it and then possibly put themselves forward for selection to be a candidate.
I have just completed my term of office as Young Labour’s disability officer. It has been an experience I have enjoyed tremendously. I have travelled across the country meeting young members and tried to encourage them see that their disability is not a barrier to their participation in the party; it is part of who they are, and the experience that they bring is vital to have within the party as it seeks to reflect the society we seek to serve.
Making the Labour party more accessible to disabled young people was the aim of my term of office. To that end I produced an advice sheet about how constituency parties can support disabled people to participate in campaign days or social events. I also spoke many times in committee meetings about the need to produce a disability manifesto and the need for disabled delegates to have a better chance of speaking at party conference than they currently do. A manifesto would hopefully outlining party policies in areas such as housing or transport and would help to get rid of the perception that all politicians care about is benefits for disabled people.
I have also tried to make young members aware of the challenges faced by disabled people in society. I think all party members should have awareness of the issues faced by under-represented groups in the party including LGBT, BAME and women because they affect everyone not just people who self-define as coming from those groups.
Iain McNicol the general secretary addressed the Young Labour conference last week and participated in a Q &A. I raised my hand with a sense of nervousness as this was my chance to ask a very important question to a very important man. I also stammer and thought it would happen as I spoke and ruin my question, but I did not stammer
I asked Iain if he could make the party more accessible to disabled people by asking the party to produce a disability manifesto and to make it easier for disabled delegates to speak at conference he said he didn’t see a problem with producing a manifesto because it is done in other areas such as business and would look into the issue of speaking at conference.
I have been overwhelmed by the loud applause and response on Twitter that followed my question. I know that my work highlighting disability issues to young members may be over but the challenge of highlighting them to the entire Labour party has only just begun.
Mark Cooper is former Young Labour disability officer, was Labour PPC for Orkney and Shetland in 2010, and tweets @markc1984
disability, equalities, Labour, Labour party selections, Young Labour, Young Labour conference