Alongside the many inspiring and humbling things we’re going to see during the Paralympics, we’re also, unfortunately, in for a series of nauseating spectacles – in fact, they’ve already begun. David Cameron just can’t resist the opportunity of basking in a little reflected glory in the hope of gaining some positive publicity – but it’s more than that.
After being seen, beaming and clapping, on every possible occasion at the Olympics, he’s now been meeting Paralympians – with plenty of cameras in attendance of course – to tell them to ‘go for it’ and to proclaim how inspiring and ‘super-amazing’ they are. Without question, he and his ministers are going to be levering themselves into every possible photo-opportunity alongside British Paralympians during and after the event. But it’s not only in the hope that some reflected glory will improve his standing with the electorate. He and his gang are going to use even the Paralympics to try to turn the screw more tightly on disabled people.
I have a couple of home-truths for David Cameron. Firstly, his telling Britain’s Paralympic team to ‘go for it‘ is as superfluous and pointless as going to Cape Canaveral to blow as a rocket takes off in the hope of boosting it on its way into orbit. These amazing athletes have been training for their attempts to win a medal for years – and if they weren’t deeply motivated and driven, they wouldn’t be in the team. Their ‘going for it’ is not going to be changed one whit by three trite words from a politician who isn’t fit to stand in their shadow.
Which is pretty much my second home-truth. David Cameron is not fit to stand in the shadow of these incredible people – especially not for the purpose of trying to gain a political boost and increase his ability to get away with measures that are not only targeting disabled people for a barrage of cuts and humiliation, but actively – and with tragic effectiveness – promoting hate-crimes against disabled people.
Nicky Clark’s excellent blog for the Independent on Friday about the rise in hate crime against disabled people (a massive and heart-breaking tally of over 65,000 such crimes in the past 12 months) rightly lays much blame for the phenomenon of increasing attacks on disabled people at the feet of the right-wing media. I heartily recommend reading her article, in which she points to a University of Glasgow study that shows how the use of words such as ‘skiver‘, ‘scrounger‘ and ‘cheat‘ are now being used in a vastly increased number of newspaper articles about disability benefit claimants. Words matter, and a certain type of person is likely to be influenced by such terms into fostering resentment and hatred for the people that they’re used about – sadly, the type of person who’s likely to be more abundant among Sun and Mail readers than in the population as a whole.
However, while she links to an article which does make the connection, I don’t think she emphasises enough what is probably the key factor. In their attacks on disabled people (and other groups), the Sun, Mail and co are not acting in a vacuum. On the contrary, they’re following the lead, and mirroring the words, of David Cameron, Iain Duncan-Smith and other leading Tories.
I’ve written before about the Tories’ deliberate tactic of demonising groups before attacking them, and how they’re assisted in these attacks by their friends and supporters in the media – and even by a blackmailed BBC via such programmes as ‘Saints and Scroungers‘. In their attacks on the disabled, unemployed and others, the media are merely using the terms of reference that the Tories have framed.
Of course, in their attempts to polarise Britons against various groups of people, the Tories have to be fractionally more subtle than the newspapers and TV shows when it comes to how they demonise their targets. But only fractionally. And they do so in a way that clearly invites the newspapers and other media – and consequently their readers, viewers and listeners, to ‘fill in the blanks with exactly the type of words that we see used in the media, and which stick in the consciousness of people already resentful at their own situations so that they turn their anger against someone other than the government that has caused those situations.
By saying ‘We are the party of strivers‘, David Cameron is clearly implying that anyone they decide to target for cuts is not a striver – and don’t think for a moment that Tory spin-doctors didn’t choose that word specifically because it rhymes with ‘skiver’, offering easy headlines on a platter to the gutter press.
By claiming to be ‘the party that cares about the strivers, the battlers, the family-raisers, the community-builders‘, Cameron is nakedly inviting people to conclude that the benefit-claimants the government has decided to attack are skiving, lazy and destructive to family and community’ – and again inviting the same kind of headlines.
By saying ‘we must get on the side of the responsible, the hard working and the brave. We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk, and rewarding laziness‘, in order to grab headlines and the approval of the more extreme wing of the Tory party, the Tory ‘rising stars’ know full well what kind of banners the Tory cronies in the press will write and how that will influence a section of public opinion.
By deliberately implying that the rate of disability benefit fraud is 30%, instead of the actual 0.5%! – to justify his measures against disabled people, Iain Duncan Smith calculatingly stirred public ill-feeling against the disabled. Only a fool could fail to be aware of the consequences.
By speaking of ‘120,000 problem families‘ for easy headlines, when all of the criteria used to assess these families are measures that show they are suffering problems rather than causing them, Communities Minister Eric Pickles was deliberately trying to skew public opinion and stir resentment. When he added ‘They’re troubling themselves, they’re troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it’ when the criteria have nothing to do with causing trouble, Pickles knew exactly what he was doing. And by including having a family member with a disability, or having a family member with a mental illness, as criteria for being a problem-causing family, Pickles was cold-heartedly inciting hatred – and consequently hate-crimes – against the disabled.
The media, though culpable, are following the lead set by the government. And now, Cameron & co will shamelessly – because they have no shame – sit and stand alongside the Paralympic heroes for their own political and public-relations purposes, without acknowledging the slightest irony.
In the Tory world-view, a person only has value if they’re capable of being net contributors – in bald financial terms – to society. The Tories will try to use Paralympic medal-winners to spin a narrative of obstacles overcome, turning even their feats into a prong of the assault by implying that disabled – and other – people who don’t and can’t overcome their own ‘challenges’ to get by in life without being a ‘burden’ on the rest of us. They’ll try to sow that seed-thought into the public consciousness and won’t pause even for an instant in their crusade to strip away the support that disabled and disadvantaged people have no choice but to rely on.
And the media will collude, collaborate, add their own spin and the words that the politicians daren’t use.
I don’t share that small-minded world-view, thank God. People have value because they’re people, not because they’re ‘productive’ by some narrow-minded criterion. And if some people need my support in terms of taxes so that they can receive support, that’s absolutely fine by me – they ain’t heavy, they’re my brothers and sisters.
If the feats of the Paralympians of all nations teaches us anything, it should be this: a person’s worth to society goes far, far beyond what mere financial numbers can capture. And that goes for everyone, not just the few who can overcome well enough to compete in the Paralympics. If only that kind of concept made the headlines occasionally – as it just might if the Tories weren’t so cynical – then we might just see a reduction in hate crimes instead of an increase, and a better, healthier society all-round.