Wednesday 10 July 2013

Extremist? Moi?

Extremist: a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.

Wow. That sounds pretty scary. I'm thinking violent demonstrations, perhaps even possible terrorist activity from people making unreasonable and impossible demands.

But actually apparently I'm talking about myself, which I have to say comes as a bit of a surprise.

For the past couple of years I've been involved in some disability activism. This has taken various forms. Posting on this blog is one. Writing to my MP is another. Signing petitions such as the WoW petition which simply asks the government to do an impact assessment on disabled people of their welfare reforms is yet another.

My main success has to be of course the Spartacus Report. Using government data this carefully constructed 40 page long report contradicted the government report which claimed disabled group's responses to a consultation were in favour of replacing the disability benefit DLA with PIP.

Although I was the main co-author it was written and coordinated with a number of other fellow disabled people (all names in above link). The research was well received and acknowledged. It has been used countless times in Hansard and investigations by committees such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Following this the We Are Spartacus network was born. With my failing health I am much less involved, but there have been other great people to take up the task.  
Further reports were researched and written, from responding to further consultations, to analysing the effects of the implementation of PIP to warning about problems implementing a cap on social care in Worcestershire. These were also well received and used. 
Members of the group are now involved in discussions with politicians in an attempt to improve policy, including forming part of the Labour Taskforce.

It was therefore a surprise in today's Opposition Debate involving the Cumulative Impact Assessment to hear the We Are Spartacus group being called "an extremist group" by Paul Maynard MP.

I understand that being criticised and disagreed with may not be pleasant, but lying in bed with a laptop, looking up government figures and statistics and then writing long winded polite reports pointing out potential flaws in disability policy is rather a long way from extremist activity!

We were not the only ones singled out. We were joined on the naughty step by Pats Petition and the WoWpetition, who had the temerity to set up a petition asking for the Cumulative Impact Assessment. Both have been signed by 49,000 and 65,000 people respectively, presumably also all extremists. 
Astonishingly we were later to be joined by the independent, non partisan Citizen's Advice Bureau who were accused by the Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey of being biased and left wing. They had made the mistake of recently criticising government policy.

It is fairly obvious that pointing out problems or flaws in disability policy is enough to be publicly smeared in the House of Commons and labelled biased, left wing, or extremist. This is not conducive to constructive dialogue, which is essential if any progress is ever to be made.

There is much anger following these insults. It is my worry and my suspicion that this may, in fact, be intentional. Some people are now wondering aloud if they should "act like extremists", saying after all, that if that is what the government wants, that is what it should get.
This is extremely dangerous. Any foolhardy act will only give fuel to the government's allegations. They will then in all righteousness be able to refuse to engage in any further dialogue.

It is therefore vital at this point to keep calm and ignore the insults that keep coming our way. In the mean time we must continue to do what we have always done: expose the facts and try to find new solutions. Let them call us extremists for it if they must. And if that really is the new definition of extremist, then so be it. I have done nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I am proud of it.

Note: In a bizarre twist, when pushed on his "extremist" slander by Anne McGuire, Paul Maynard MP started angrily talking about special schools. This is strange because WeAreSpartacus has never had anything to do with this issue in any shape or form that I am aware of... Weird!


  1. Maynard has a thing about special schools for some reason. He has brought it up several times.

    1. I understand that he attended a special school himself between the ages of 3 and 5, alllowing him to access intensive physiotherapy before joining mainstream education.

      The irony? I support choice and would never advocate closing down all special schools! One of my friends has a son who is severely autistic. He has made fantastic progress since attending a special school. I really do believe they have their place.
      I don't think anyone should ever be forced to attend one, but I do think they should be offered as an option to those who want it.

      This makes this insult even more silly!

  2. First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Gandhi

  3. The ME community have been called 'extremist' for years just for objecting to mistreatment. There has also been an ongoing media smear campaign, for years, based on innuendo and unsubstantiated claims - but it becomes clear when you read these articles that the actual reasons they are being called 'extremist' are to do with legitimate activities - complaining through official channels, FOI requests, letters to academic journals or lay media etc.

  4. So now I'm not just a 'Scrounger', but also an 'Extremist'.....Hey Ho, better go and have a lie down;-)
    Wonder what we'll be called after this evenings BBC Nick & Margaret show?