We need a Lib Dem role model for disabled people


A couple of days ago, I found myself in quite an unusual situation. As a candidate for May’s local elections, I was campaigning in my ward’s town centre when someone flung their arms around me and gave me a great hug.

She told me she’d been watching me and was gobsmacked to see me doing what I was doing. As a visually impaired candidate, people are frequently a bit shocked to see me knocking on their doors. But this was different. She introduced me to her five-year-old daughter, who had just started learning how to use a white cane.

We had a lovely chat. The girl told me her cane was named Dora, after Dora the Explorer, and I explained that my cane had an orange handle, because that’s my favourite colour.

They had to rush off, but as they left the girl’s mum said something that will most probably stay with me forever. “It’s great that my daughter has someone like her to look up to.” We both choked back tears.

When we have a diverse set of councillors and MPs, it inspires others to get involved.

But members shouldn’t have to be an “equality champion” just because they come from an under-represented group. The answer is to build a critical mass so that identity matters less, and we need that critical mass more than ever. The 2010 Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation discusses the importance of disabled role models for getting other’s involved. There aren’t many disabled MPs, and the most well-known disabled politician is David Blunkett.

And that’s why I’m supporting the Electing Diverse MPs motion at spring Conference.  I’m not going to stand back and let disabled people look up to someone with a horrendous record on civil liberties. If a scandal-hit Labour MP can act as a role model to disabled people, I know that a Liberal Democrat MP can do even better.

* Henry Foulds is a member and activist in Amber Valley, Derbyshire. He is standing in May’s local elections.

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  • Andrew Martin 18th Feb '16 - 1:36pm

    Well written Henry. Good luck in Alfreton.

  • Joshua Dixon 18th Feb '16 - 1:44pm

    Great piece, Henry and a lovely story that you have shared as well. Like you, I’ll be supporting the motion next month 🙂

  • George Boyd 18th Feb '16 - 1:47pm

    I agree with Henry

    This should also be true of people who suffer from Mental Illness too.

    George Boyd

  • Liberal Neil 18th Feb '16 - 1:47pm

    Well said Henry.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '16 - 2:07pm

    Henry , we met some time ago , I am a in Nottingham, it was at a hustings.This is terrific stuff .You are to be commended for this and any of us who can shall be rooting for you in person or with moral support.

    I have been slow to support all women short lists , I hear so many women I admire in our party against them.I increasingly hear others I feel the same way about , considering their introduction.My sole , important objection to the AWS being introduced is that I do not see a lack of women in positions of power and influence on anything like the scale , compared to ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.To me , it seems wrong , that because you are male you might not get the right to stand in your own area !I need to be sure that aws do not overide a choice in favour of more discriminated against minorites.

    Could we not have a motion that says in x area we choose to only have , women, or BAME, or disabled or LGBT, one of these under represented groups.As a straight , white, forty something male, I do not mind being told I cannot stand , in a given area , at a particular time, if I feel it is going to really change the same old way of doing things.I have always had women friends, as much or more close women friends .I work with women as much or more , than men.I see they are just as good and bad . And they have had power in fields I have worked.I see very few BAME.Precious fewer with disabilities!

    All voices need to be heard.Glad to see , Henry , yours is being heard now .

  • Charley Hasted 18th Feb '16 - 2:08pm

    In complete agreement here. We’re not going to see a more diverse range of voters and members unless we have a more diverse range of candidates and elected representatives. There are a number of ways that could be achieved and the electing diverse MP’s motion is a fantastic start towards achieving that aim.

  • #IAgreeWithHenry

  • I am still ill in bed but this post has really brightened my day. Thank you.

    I am speaking to an RNIB Scotland fringe at Scottish conference next week & will definitely quote this.

    BTW, am also a huge Dora fan! Love the wee girl’s name for her cane.

  • A lovely piece. One of the issues with role models is that so many disabilities (like my own) are almost invisible. So it’s more difficult for voters to realise what a diverse bunch we are. And that’s before looking at mental health issues.

  • Rhys Taylor 18th Feb '16 - 2:49pm

    It’s great hearing stories like this where, as usual, we’re really connecting with people in our communities. It’s also a great piece about why we need to work harder on diversity and identity within the party!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '16 - 3:03pm

    Sara , well said , I have suffered with skin problems all my life , years of periodic hospital visits.And, as a result of a car accident , that nearly killed my wife and I walking on the pavement, have known real issues, disability wise,she in particular as a result of injuries.But ones history is not always as visible.This is why we must be far more vigilant in protection of the rights and situation of people with disabilities.

    All parties have tried and succeeded, and failed ,on that agenda.We must do better.

  • Max Wilkinson 18th Feb '16 - 3:08pm

    Wonderful. Thanks Henry.

  • Rabi Martins 18th Feb '16 - 4:19pm

    A very well written and argued piece Henry and like you I hope the Electing Diverse MPs motion gets overwhelming support from conference – once it has been suitably amended. I say that advisedly because I am aware that some local Parties believe the motion, good as it is, can and should be improved

    I don’t however fully agree that “members shouldn’t have to be an “equality champion” just because they come from an under-represented group” Because although as you say ” The answer is to build a critical mass so that identity matters less ” our Party’s record in moving towards that goal has been lamentably slow. If you don’t believe me ask Robert Adamson The reason we need Role Models and “champions” for the various Diversity strands is twofold Firstly – to send a loud signal to ambitious capable individuals from these under represented groups that there is room for them at the top table within our Party And secondly to serve as a constant reminder to our Party leadership of the scale of work that remains to be done if we are to ever achieve that CRTICAL MASS you speak of

  • Christine Mary Fitze 18th Feb '16 - 4:53pm

    I am disabled with slight Cerebral Palsy, However, that didn’t stop me from working as a Bank Clerk for30 years, gaining a B.Sc (Hons) from the Open University, volunteering at a Foodbank or travelling extensively.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '16 - 5:07pm

    Henry as we met before in Nottingham , seeing this , your marvellous work, would like to come over to your neck of the woods and campaign for you , hope to see you there !


  • David Buxton 18th Feb '16 - 6:22pm

    Great article, Henry!

    We have been working so hard to encourage party members to embrace more on diversity and equality. I set up LDDA 23 years ago, I knew we still have long way to go – changing the party’s attitude towards disability. We now have more disabled and deaf members – yes few of us were elected councilors, PPCs …. we always told party members that we don’t want to focus on disability issues, we can tell our views on Europe, economy, environment, housing, social care, education, name more…

    This time is the right time for ALL of us to stop making any more excuse, it’s time for us to take action louder than words … support the diversity motion – see MORE women MPs, MORE BaME MPs, more DISABLED MPs, more LGBT MPs … nothing to be ashamed! We should be proud of our liberal values – diversity and equality without why oppressions!

    Not only MPs but Peers, MEPs, MSPs, so on..

    Please support diversity motion! I will be there!

  • Chris Nelson 18th Feb '16 - 11:36pm

    I most definitely agree with you Henry. As a stammering candidate I faced opposition when I first wanted to stand.

  • Chris Nelson 18th Feb '16 - 11:41pm

    I most definitely agree with you Henry. As a stammering candidate I faced opposition when I first wanted to stand as there was a degree of prejudice, but the more people of disability are thrust into public roles the less this prejudice becomes and the more normal it becomes for people to see disabled people as just as capable as everyone else.

    We used to have a lovely role model in Andrew Duff, who as an MEP had a stammer more severe that mine is today (though it was not always thus for me). David Blunkett, for all his nasty politics, was also a great role model for those disabled who could not only see very visually that politics was open to them but also for wider society being able to actually imagine a blind person as being just as capable as anyone else. Politics is certainly the poorer for the lack of a role model.

    Remind me when you have your next action day, Henry. If I can make it I’ll come campaign with you.

  • Dave Page: ‘Chicken and egg syndrome’ – but guess what, there is an answer, eggs come before hens, and thus chickens, so let’s support folks who are willing to stand-up, however they want to do it, and use their willingness to stand up as a means to support other people to join and get involved.

    For me it’s not about being pushed to stand out as much as being supported to stand up.

  • Great story Henry – it feels so clear that we need to create more role models so that others can feel like they can make it too. Jonan

  • Why do you need such a compelling story to get the message across? I think this is wonderful and completely agree with the motion for Spring Conference. But let me add another story here. Having attended conferences in the past I realised that as my hearing deteriorated I could no longer participate. To engage and communicate I now need a Lip Speaker or Palantypist to interpret for me. These are expensive supports and the bursary available is £100. To have support all day you require two interpreters at approximately £200 + travel per day EACH!!! We need to get support at grass routes to encourage disabled activists and prospective councillors, AM’s SMP’s and MP’s to come forward. It isn’t just about role models but about enabling, encouraging, supporting and including all active and positive things to for everyone. But if you have a disability you just need a little helping hand to move you forward. If you are disabled you are also more likely to be lower paid or out of work.

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