Collin Brewer, a Cornwall councilor, came into the media spotlight a few months ago for comments he had made in 2011 to a "Disability Cornwall" worker at a charity event, saying that "disabled children cost the council too much and should be put down."
While offensive in the extreme I'm sad to say that I know that a number of people do feel a similar way and secretly feel that maybe it would be kinder to let disabled children (and some adults) die. It is too often seen when people say that they would rather die than be disabled, or that it is cruel to let a child suffer (ie be disabled). A lot of this is due not to malice, but plain fear and ignorance, something I addressed in a previous post "Better off dead? Time to educate".
However this was rather different as this was not about the wellbeing of the child but callously purely financial considerations.
After a lengthy investigation the Independent Standards Committee ordered Collin Brewer to write a letter of apology, 18 months after the incident itself. There was public outrage at the leniency of the punishment and the fact that a councillor with such views could remain in office.
Originally defiant, Mr Brewer gave many excuses for his comments, ranging from trying to provoke a debate, to a flippant remark, to being "hot under the collar" due to a budget meeting. Although he said the comment was a mistake and not something he believed, he also drew attention to people who supported his views, repeatedly mentioning receiving messages of support, including in particular from other councillors who agreed with him.
He eventually resigned only to stand again for re-election just 2 months later and in a shock result won by a margin of 4 votes. In a sickening twist he praised the media attention he had received, saying it had done him a "power of good", "promoting" him and making him "well known".
Disability News Service have since interviewed Mr Brewer to get to the bottom of the story. There can now no longer be any doubt about his views. He openly says that there is a good argument for killing some disabled babies. He first likens the situation to a conversation he had with a farmer who has to put down deformed lambs at birth and then bitterly complains of the burden of disabled children on the council once their parents die.
This is a free country. People are allowed to hold this view if they wish without being arrested for it. However it is difficult to see how it is possible for an elected official to responsibly and without prejudice carry out their duties which will have repercussions on disabled constituents if they consider their lives to be worthless and think they should be dead.
People are now once more protesting and calling on Mr Brewer to resign. Others are complaining that you shouldn't be punished twice and that you can't override democracy.
This puts me in a difficult position. I do not think that Mr Brewer is fit for office. However I also agree that you can't punish someone twice for the same crime, nor that you can disregard an election simply because you don't like the result.
On the other hand it may be that Mr Brewer in his joy at being reelected has said quite enough other offensive things since his reelection to warrant another resignation! The DNS article speaks for itself.
The Real Villain
In my opinion there is a villain of the piece which has not been mentioned enough and that is the Law and the Independent Standards Committee.
- Why was a letter of apology deemed a sufficient response? Forget resignations, surely we should be able to sack politicians for such offences.
- Why, after someone is forced to resign for such a serious reason as this, are they allowed to stand again for reelection just 2 months later?
We need to ensure that behaviour of this sort is stamped on strongly. Our politicians need to know that it will not be tolerated and that they have a duty to properly represent disabled people (or any minority for that matter).
We need to ensure that should a politician have been found to fail in this duty and had to resign, that they are banned from standing again.
I think this is perhaps what we should be focusing on. This is what we should try and change.
Getting Collin Brewer to resign solves this particular case but will not stop it from happening again.
On the other hand if we could review and change the procedures which are in place to deal with such misdemeanors and the rules for re-election once resigned or sacked, then we could ensure that there will not be another Collin Brewer. One is quite enough.