In 2009 at the age of 19, I became the youngest County Councillor in the country. If this wasn’t newsworthy enough, the story was made that bit juicer by me having cerebral palsy.
I would be a rich man if I had a pound for everytime that I was asked the question “How can you be disabled and Conservative?” Unfortunately, years have gone by and the assumption that disability as an issue is owned by the left to such an extent that after the reshuffle this September one Labour councillor declared on Twitter that “There is no Tory fit to be minister for disability”.
I’m writing this blog because I am fed up. Fed up with the assumption that you or I can’t be Conservative and disabled. Fed up with the assumption that my disability means that my politics now or in the future must be left leaning because I rely on the state to take care of me. Fed up that the Conservative Party isn’t recognised as the party of disability.
I’ve just become a dad and as any new parent will know it’s tough. This is compounded by the self-doubt that comes with having a physical disability. A few months ago, I was crying to my mum; I couldn’t understand how I’d got everything in life which once seemed unattainable (a wife, house, full-time job and now a beautiful baby girl) and yet I was sitting at my parents kitchen table pouring my heart out. In response, my mum told me that I had done extraordinarily well considering that her and my dad had anticipated me always living beside them in an annex.
I thought about this comment in the weeks that followed along the lines of “On one hand, I’ve done really well by going beyond what was expected of me. On the other, why have I worked so hard to achieve a life where I feel that I’m failing when I could’ve been sat in the annex.”
I’m not conservative despite being disabled, I’m a conservative because I’m disabled. For me, the conservative values of individual freedom and personal responsibility have enabled me to take control, shape my life, and be ultimately responsible for my own destiny.
This is not what the left wants society to believe about disabled people. As a disabled person who has a wobbly walk and talks slowly, I should be looked after by the state, protected from taking risks, avoid challenging myself, contributing to society and achieving fulfillment by personal growth should be stifled.
The Labour Party wants to keep me and people like me in my place; unmotivated to achieve, reliant on others and voting for them rather than us tories who want to enable people to live a fulfilled life and dispel their deception of what it is to be disabled.
In their document Breaking Down Barriers – Labour’s manifesto for disabled people, they proudly claim that the government has “...unleashed an austerity programme that systematically denies disabled people the vital support that they are entitled to, from Universal Credit to cuts to social care.”
It is statements like this that put me into a box, imprisoning all disabled people in a category which they assume that we are all are vulnerable and helpless and that it is the duty of the state to cater for our every need and that politically the “nasty tories” are guilty of dereliction of that duty.
Now don’t get me wrong, there have been and will be times in my life when I have been vulnerable because of my Cerebral Palsy. But to me, vulnerability is a temporary state. My disability has given me strength, resilience, built and shaped my character and above all gave me the desire to achieve to make a difference in the world and to live a fulfilling life. This is the narrative of disability that the Labour Party don’t want to hear; and the narrative of disability that the Conservative Party should aim to dominate.