Opinion: Enablement For All

I had the opportunity to tour a small business this week which makes cutting-edge prosthetic devices.  It was fascinating – technology nowadays has moved on so much that electronic sensors in an artificial foot can detect when you stub your toe on a curb and compensate for your loss of balance so that the foot/prosthetic device stays stable and you don’t fall.

We are all familiar with international athletes, ‘bladerunners’, who are able to achieve so much in their sport because of the specialist blade limbs that enable them to compete at the highest level.  What I wasn’t aware of was swimming ‘flipper’ limbs are also available, and a range of other devices.  This company makes all of them, enabling those who have been in road accidents or lost limbs through illness or in war, to live their lives to the full.  I came away in wonder, having seen how the devices are made out of sheets of plastic draped over moulds, simple materials changing peoples’ lives.

Enablement.  It is, in my opinion, what the Liberal Democrats are all about.  We exist to create a “fair, free and open society” and we value “liberty and equality.”  We enable.

Enablement unites the social liberals amongst us with the economic liberals.  Social liberals seek to protect the vulnerable and poor, balancing out the inequalities of wealth, enabling everyone to live their life to the full with good public services and a strong welfare safety net.  Economic liberals seek to enable enterprise, ingenuity, expertise, advocating open markets where businesses are enabled to grow and employ, leading to a strong tax base and fiscal stability.

So we all want to enable, and the idea of enablement can unify the party, the question is how we go about doing it.  There are two points I’d like to make.

First, we all need to be enabled.  Those of us with legs need stairs to get to the second floor:  we need to be enabled to get from the ground to the next level up.  Those of us without legs are enabled to get to the second floor with a lift or ramp.  The point is, none of us can flap our arms and fly to the second floor!  We all have to be enabled to get there.  This applies in policy.  We need to enable those who are poor or disadvantaged to get on in life, and we likewise need to enable those with dreams and expertise to start businesses and develop cutting edge technology.  All of us need to be enabled.

Second point, we need a societal shift so that we look at ability rather than disability.  We should value what people can do, not what they can’t.  We need to acknowledge that each of us has gifts and something to offer, and it is in drawing out each of our potential that we truly enable and create an equal society for all.  There is too much emphasis on high-achievement, on exams, on making the most money you can make, and not on valuing who we are and how we are all inter-dependent.

If we Liberal Democrats, in our policy making and in our speeches, can push the language of enablement, and how we all need to be enabled, I think we will begin to shift societal mindsets from pity and good works to community and the joy of living and growing together.

The last paragraph of the preamble to our Constitution says:

We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

Let’s make that happen!


* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jan '15 - 11:17am

    This is excellent Kirsten. Not enough people have been talking about this in politics and it supports businesses too.

    We will need to balance state support with charity, but helping those in pain is a priority. It fits into my anti-suffering theme, which we sometimes depart from when we spend too much time dealing with privileged concerns.

  • Kirsten johnson 26th Jan '15 - 12:03pm

    Thanks, Eddie. Yes, working against suffering at all levels, whether economic, physical, or mental should be a priority. By enabling, we come alongside people with a view to alleviating suffering and creating opportunity, It’s the only way to achieve a fairer society.

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