It took barely a few days to show why Labour must always, always be on guard and on the attack against the ConDems.
Ed Miliband had hardly finished his ‘I met a man…’ speech – in which he claimed a disabled person on benefit whom he had encountered could do a job if only he tried – than a Conservative MP has been telling us that perhaps people with disability should work for less than the minimum wage.
Just how unpleasant can this get?
Fundamentally it matters not that Miliband also said he doesn’t think disabled people are scroungers; and it matters not that the Tory MP in question, Philip Davies, was denounced by some of his party colleagues.
The damage is done when the words leave the mouth of the speaker. Mumbled caveats thereafter are beside the point.
It turns out that in parallel with his ‘I met a man…’ speech, Ed Miliband has been getting advice from a Canadian Chicagan , Arnie Graf, who trained with Saul Alinski and now, we gather, seeks opinion by walkabout.
Already, David Cameron has (probably misleadingly) claimed Alinski as a begetter of his Big Society focus. Now Ed Miliband is turning to the same source of ‘inspiration’.
Mr Miliband as an individual is entitled to use whatever investigative methodologies he chooses; but if he as a political leader wants to make use of the outcomes for public policy, research which employs proper surveys and verifiable data might be a better way forward.
And as for Mr Cameron, it’s not good enough simply to cast aside the comments of an unreconstructed backwoodsman. The commentator as well as the comment should be dismissed.
But already, even as we consider the failings and fudges of our foremost politicians, we have forgotten that people with disability are nonetheless people. Of course they, like everyone else, live in difficult economic times; but disability makes for a frailty and fear which is unexperienced by most others – including the large majority of men in suits who seek to be our leaders.
Arnie Graf or not, the vast majority of UK citizens are surely as concerned about disabled and other vulnerable people experiencing nasty unfairness, as they are about wider issues of socio-economic equity. But you wouldn’t know this from the commentary of leading politicians.
Sadly – no, outrageously – the ‘Does s/he take sugar?’ syndrome and worse remains alive and kicking in the world of petty politics. Our political leaders might like to reflect that people with disabilities are voters, too.