Well! What an interesting time it has been since my earlier post on 13 November 2014! What a fascinating flurry of abuse and disinformation it has set in train. I can’t pretend to be surprised; I did not pen the first piece without having a clear idea of the likely result. There are some issues in this country where any divergence from the assumed “correct” norm is treated with ridicule, contempt, anger and rudeness. Race is one; disability is another; equality tends to wrap the two together. It means that an awful lot of people are afraid to speak up and challenge the received wisdom imposed by a powerful elite.
So, let’s start with what I wrote in my first blog. I set out the reported news story of a clash between a wheelchair user trying to board a bus and a mother with a child in a buggy and occupying a space reserved for a wheelchair user. I set out the position of the two protagonists; suggested who seemed to be in the wrong and noted what seemed incontrovertible – that two parties had refused to give way and the poor old bus company had taken the rap and the hefty fine.
Now, I was never going to have people flocking to my defence here. I have too many black marks against me or should I say “spectrally absorbent” marks to be politically correct?
Firstly, I am not disabled. In fact, I have barely had a day’s illness in my life for which I am eternally grateful but it seems that, in the eyes of some correspondents, this disbars me from commenting on disability issues. I don’t do gesture politics so I have never got into a wheelchair and wheeled myself around the streets. I don’t need to do that to imagine what it is like.
Secondly, I am a Conservative and clearly seen as the devil incarnate by some of the correspondents to this piece. To add to my sinful characteristics, I am white, male, past retirement age and not gay so consistently fail the Guardian test.
Thirdly, I spoke up for the poor old bus company that got a hefty fine for being caught up in a dispute between a wheelchair user and a mother with child. You might have thought I was supporting Lehman Brothers or Genghis Khan to see the reaction of some correspondents.
Fourthly, another particularly dire black mark, I have been a local politician for 24 years. Clearly, some correspondents regard all politicians as intrinsically evil, thoroughly venal, incapable of speaking the truth and only out for what they can get. I deply resent that suggestion and reject it strongly. As Leader of the Council I was fully aware of the requirements of disability legislation and my council was rigorous in meeting its obligations.
Fifthly, I was accused of being uncaring, out of touch with reality and of having a butler! If I had continued my career as a Chartered Accountant in the private sector for a second quarter century, I would probably have ended up wealthy enough to employ a butler and several other servants. I did not do this. I chose to enter public service in local government and spent eleven years as Leader of the Council, working a seven day week, fourteen hour day for the same pay as an Oxford bus driver. I don’t regret this in the slightest; it was a great job and it involved helping people less well off and less able to look after themselves so don’t preach to me about being on the make.
Finally, I had the temerity not to reply to the small deluge of responses from Mr Doug Paulley; Mrs Samantha Covington; someone calling herself “Emma594” and someone rejoicing in the name of “Chris Squirrelpot”. I simply uploaded their rude, aggressive and personal diatribes for the world to see. This clearly infuriated my little band of correspondents and caused them to continue trying to taunt me into replies. My amusement at their antics was proportionate to their irritation at my refusal to do so!
Something all politicians have to do constantly, is to judge the relative needs of different interest groups. In doing so, they have to consider those needs dispassionately and to avoid being influenced by those who shout loudest or most often. That may be disappointing and frustrating to those who are well equipped to make the most noise but it is an integral part of the politician’s role.
More recently, we have had a ruling from the European Court of Justice that extreme obesity is to be classified as a disability. Now, I recognise that, for some, extreme obesity can be the result of physiology beyond their control. However, for many, it can be the result of their own stupid actions. If ever there was a case for an element of common sense in disability legislation, this surely has to be the starting point? If someone who has deliberately eaten their way through mountains of inappropriate food for long enough to weigh 25 stone or more is to have automatic precedence over a mother with an infant in a pram or an old person with heavy shopping, there is something wrong with our laws or, at least, our submission to European laws of this kind.
I will close this Boxing Day Blog with my best wishes to the little band of correspondents I have listed above for a happy and, I hope, a busy new year. May they live in interesting times!