What inspired you to get involved in politics?
Experience of injustice came early to me. As a partially sighted child I was bullied and taunted because I was different. I was enraged that it was me they objected to for all I’d done was be disabled. As I journeyed through the women’s, disability and lesbian and gay liberation movements, my rage at sexism, ableism and homophobia fuelled my activism. In my work as an artist, writer and local government officer, I sought to change the world through exposing the outrageous hatred of the different.
I wrote, I ranted, I organised and I sat down. I sat down for peace, against apartheid and for disabled people’s right to ride. But I wanted mainstream politics to take up these issues so I decided to get involved in formal party politics.
My first bid was for a seat on the Greater London Authority. Proud to be selected for the London Labour List, I was unfortunately far too far down it to stand a chance of being elected. Still, I loved the fight, campaigning outside tube stations and on the street with Ken Livingstone, and we narrowed the gap hugely by the day of the vote.
As a disabled person did you experience particular barriers or challenges?
As a blind person, there are many barriers put up to stop me participating in society. This is reflected in how political parties organise and how would-be politicians campaign.
Canvassing on the doorsteps and streets is expected of candidates, but this is not easy to do if you are disabled. In order to run a good campaign, I must keep abreast of local issues and research policy areas so I can say what I will do when I am elected. This is hard when information is very inaccessible. If I am to have an equal chance of getting nominations and participating as a candidate in elections, this is the kind of support I need.
I couldn’t do any of the campaigning without a support worker and as the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund had not opened, I had to foot the bill myself.
How has the Access to Elected Office for Disabled People Fund helped you in the election process?
I was amazed when I discovered that the Access to Elected Office Fund not only existed but would support would-be politicians to get nominated as well as when they had been selected as the candidate. Suddenly, a huge pile of barriers fell away.
My next bid for office was to seek the Labour nomination for the Hornsey and Wood Green Parliamentary seat. Well blow me down if I didn’t get into the last three! This time, with the support of the Access to Elected Office Fund, I was able to pay for support workers to assist me on door to door canvassing. I believe that it was the fact that I had support workers that helped me raise my profile and get to the shortlist. I didn’t win the nomination, but thanks to the Access to Elected Office Fund, I was able to really enjoy the fight.
What are your future plans for your political career?
I’m now on the shortlist for a Councillor nomination in Haringey. If I get it, there will be months of hard work to bring the ward back to Labour. I have asked the Access to Elected Office Fund to support me to campaign and research the issues. With their support, I will stand a greater chance of getting the nomination.
If I get the nomination, I will then need the Fund to help me pay for support to be out on the streets and the doorsteps canvassing local people. Support workers can help me produce campaign material, and undertake research about community concerns so I can fully understand what local people want of their councillors. I can’t do this without sighted help.
How can candidate offices across local authorities and political parties use the Access to Elected Office fund to attract more disabled candidates and diversify the often ‘closed’ world of local and national politics?
I well remember David Blunket’s fight to get adequate support when he was elected as an MP. He had to argue for additional staff and reasonable adjustments so that he could get the huge piles of ink print information MPs are deluged with, made accessible. David has kicked open the door for blind politicians but there continue to be barriers put in the way of our participation. Government Internet Security policies as applied by different departments put more barriers in the way of anyone using adaptive technology to access information. No one has thought of the impact of such policies on disabled politicians.
Voters need to be confident that we can do the job. When they see a disabled candidate campaigning well and being supported to do so, this gives confidence that we might be worth voting for. This is why the Access To elected Office Fund is so important.