So, the Paralympics London 2012 is over – and I find myself feeling considerably more bereft about that than about the end of the Olympics, much as I found that a fantastic event too. In the media, debate has already started about what will be the legacy of Paralympics 2012 in terms of attitudes among the UK population at large toward disabled people. It’s a very good question – and in all I’ve heard so far, I don’t think anyone has touched upon the right answer.
I believe that right answer is this: it depends almost entirely on how successful we allow Cameron’s Tories and their media allies to be in spinning the respect and admiration we rightly feel for Paralympians – medal-winners or not – into a narrative that says the exact opposite of the lesson that we should all rightly be taking to heart.
You might – quite reasonably – wonder why on earth any politician or political party would want to do something like that. The answer is quite simple: the Tories cannot afford to let us learn the real lesson of the Paralympics. They are going to invest every possible effort into ensuring that we don’t.
Just before the Games began, I predicted that David Cameron and his party would try to use even the Paralympics to demonise disabled people. As the event progressed and as the feel-good factor increased, I wrote how the rising tide of appreciation of Paralympians, and the ‘risk’ (from a Tory point of view) that this would spill over into respect and appreciation for disabled people in general, meant that the Tories and their media would find – because they had to – more subtle ways of turning public opinion against them, and dissected the first such subtle, right-wing smear-article I’d seen to show how it was done.
The stratagem continued as the Games went on. When Osborne and May were booed by crowds of 80,000 people for their part in the attack on the disabled – because many if not most in the crowd would be close to someone disabled and would know what effect the government’s actions are having – the right-wing press condemned the protests as a ‘mass display of rudeness‘ for potentially taking the shine of a foreign medallist’s joy. Anything rather than have it recognised for what it was.
The Tories’ plan to deprive disabled people of much-needed state support is one of the major strands in their idealogical aim of dismantling the entire welfare state. The ‘danger’ (from a Tory point of view) is that if the British public as a whole starts to see what they are doing through a clear lens of simple human respect, let alone through one of understanding and admiration, then the British public will start to understand that all of the Tories’ attacks on various sections of our society are similarly twisted, similarly vile, similarly unjustified – and similarly counter-productive.
The Tories and their allies in the press are already trying to spin the achievements of Paralympians into a narrative that says ‘See what adversity can be overcome if you just try. If all you disabled people really tried, most of you wouldn’t need DLA or other support! All you non-disabled people (strivers!), you can’t possibly want us to keep throwing money at people who aren’t trying hard enough (skivers!)‘
That‘s the false ‘lesson’ Cameron, Duncan Smith and co are desperately hoping to foist onto us, with the help of constant, droning propaganda from the right-wing media and via soundbites shown by a mostly-tame (because blackmailed) BBC. They are forced to do it more subtly at the moment – but they are clever enough, if people aren’t aware of the ploy, to fool many. Of course, for the moment the Tories have to play the game and look pleased, and say proud words, about the achievements of our disabled athletes.
But only because they’ve been forced to by inheriting the fact of the Games when they took office. You can bet that there have been many meetings in government back-rooms about how to handle the ‘problem’ of the Paralympics, and how to try to keep control of public opinion. So over the coming months we’re going to see article after article, hear speech after speech, subtly demonising the disabled who’d have a better life, be less of a ‘burden’ to the rest of us, if they just tried a little harder.
So, what’s the real message of the Games – the understanding that the government would give its collective right arm to stop us from achieving?
It’s not complicated. A talented athlete may have the potential to become a world-class performer who wins Olympic gold and glory for himself and his country. But to give him a realistic chance of bridging the gap, the government provides special funding so that he can train and maximise his performance. The government has already recognised this by pledging that state support for athletes will be maintained up to Rio 2016.
Similarly, although to a lamentably lower scale and – to the government’s shame – a reduced one even in the run up to London 2012, promising disabled athletes receive special funding so that they can likewise train optimally and maximise their chances of winning medals at the Paralympics. Without that support, very few if any, whether disabled or non-disabled, would stand a chance of success.
The government claims that its actions toward ordinary disabled people (and the unemployed) are about helping disabled people, liberating them from ‘welfare dependency‘, getting them out of undesirable situations and into a better life. And yet – in both cases – it wants to do so by cutting support. Swim, or drown – but do it on your own.
The success of our Paralympians – and of our Olympians – is a clear demonstration of a simple fact: If you want people to do better and achieve more, give them more help, not less. Not just the disabled, but anyone – because disabled people are just people like anyone else.
The Tories are working – and will continue to work – hard to prevent us from considering the reality that for many disabled people, just to get by is an achievement to be proud of, and that the help we currently give them to do it is anything but generous. The government is terrified we’ll all realise that – and it’s up to all of us to make sure that they don’t succeed in preventing us.