THE BLOG

Political Diversity: Is Labour Ready for a Transgender MP? Where Are Labour's Disabled MPs?

19/05/2016 09:56

Reaching the longlist of 14 candidates from 119 applicants for Labour's nomination for the Tooting By-Election is credible. When you consider that I'm blind and hard of hearing, as well as being a woman with a transsexual background, that is PERHAPS more noteworthy.

I wish the successful candidate, Rosena Allin-Khan, well and I'm sure she will do our party credit.

My experience as a disabled trans candidate provides an opportunity for Labour to reflect and learn.

Selecting candidates is more about political messages and managing risk than ability, campaign experience of having a national profile. Rightly Labour's shortlist for the Tooting By-Election reflects ethnic diversity. Unsurprisingly it also stacks up with a few local clinicians because it chimes well with the junior doctor's dispute and heightens the fight over the funding crisis faced by St George's Hospital. That plays well with voters and Labour's narrative.

Bringing the gravitas of clinicians into your side of the debate brings kudos. A voice for patient experience doesn't seem to have the same traction.

We are in our comfort zone attacking the Tories for reducing disabled people to benefit scroungers, wanting to protect their interests by speaking for us. Labour doesn't see those disabled people as aspirant. Many do want to work, own their home or take up public office. That isn't happening because we don't have an authentic voice.

Many trans people are on the margins of society, struggling with social prejudice and economic disadvantage. That will change by enhancing the visibility of trans people, demonstrating we have much to offer rather than threaten sensibilities about gender.

Tooting is a Labour marginal, so why put that at risk by putting a trans woman forward? My parting remarks to the solemn NEC Panel explored that point head on. I recognised their nervousness over a potential media storm by shortlisting a disabled trans candidate. In talking about Sadiq Khan's experience with slurs about links to Islamic extremism, I argued that Labour is at its best when fighting injustice and embracing diversity. Whether Sadiq would have got the Labour nomination if these smears had been circulating before his selection is a moot point. In any case, voters are more enlightened than the political elite might think - so if we trust them more, they might just start trusting Labour again.

With improved awareness of trans issues over the last year or so, it perhaps isn't the taboo Labour may fear. At the recent local elections the first Labour trans Councillor was elected. So ground is being broken and we should be encouraged.

With no disabled people on the green benches of The Commons for Labour and no trans person having ever served in Parliament for any party, there is still a long way to go to secure political diversity. It is hardly surprising that people become disaffected with politics because Westminster doesn't look or sound like them - irrelevant and distant.

A cross party Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation reported in 2010 with a plethora of recommendations to improve political diversity. The only tangible action to emerge from this initiative was the Access to Elected Office Fund for Disabled People. This supported Candidates across all parties, to meet the extra costs incurred due to disability when standing for public office. In fighting Sutton and Cheam at the 2015 General Election, it undoubtedly enabled me to take part in the democratic process on a fair basis. Despite previous cross party agreement, this Tory Government has abandoned the initiative. That leaves disabled politicians stranded, unable to have support needs met through Enablers or specialist equipment. So for example, I could have played a stronger part in the London Assembly campaign if support existed.

You may well ask: why don't political parties step in themselves? For Labour it is partly a lack of resource, but mainly it is cultural. Like much of society, people just don't get it. If you are blind you get printed information you can't read or hard of hearing there aren't induction loops at meetings. By-Election timescales are challenging without regard to reasonable adjustments or the exhausting nature of them.

Constantly reminding people that you might need some additional support or things done differently is waring. You become a nuisance, not an asset. The ability to tap into a rigorously managed fund would get parties off the hook and make the democratic process more inclusive for disabled people.

All in all, Labour probably isn't ready for a trans MP and it has lost its way with would-be disabled MPs since David Blunkett and Anne Begg left The Commons. What the party needs to realise is that we are here and ready to act.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS