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Even when David Cameron is saying something positive, we need to look for the hidden meaning, it seems.
This week, in Comedy Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron fielded a query from Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland about last year’s Paralympic Games. Mr Mulholland said: “We were all hugely inspired by the wonderful Paralympic Games in London last year – not only a triumph for sport but also a triumph for perceptions of disability.
“Will the Prime Minister welcome the ‘Generation Inspired’ report which is going to be presented to Downing Street today, as a great opportunity to use the legacy of this to improve the lives of young disabled people?”
On the face of it, this might seem very bright and noble – reminding us all of our paralympians’ achievements and making a commitment to keep trying to help them, so that their aspirations will not outstrip the support they receive.
But let’s all remember that this question was being put in the same week that Channel 4’s Dispatches programme aired a documentary about the disappointment that awaited our paralympians after the Games – the loss of interest, the loss of help and, crucially, the loss of benefits.
It seems that they are capable of work, you see.
Look at Mr Cameron’s response in this context.
“I thought that the Paralympic Games were an absolute triumph for Britain – the way they were put on, and also the way that the auditoria, the stadia were full for almost every single event.” On the face of it, very supportive.
But then he said: “I thought it was a great testament to the generosity of people in this country and their enthusiasm for paralympic sport, but I think the most important thing is the change in perception about what disabled people are capable of, and I think that is a real gift and something we should encourage.”
A “change in perception about what disabled people are capable of”? This is very worrying indeed. He’s saying that the performances of athletes are comparable to the abilities of other people with disabilities – many of whom struggle simply to get out of bed in the morning and get dressed!
Would he have grouped his late son together with paralympians in the same way?
It is completely unrealistic to compare the two – akin to equating a marathon runner with a 50-year-old woman with a tendency to overweight, who survives on junk food and runs a supermarket checkout all day (with apologies to any such ladies who may exist).
He thinks that’s a “real gift”? There can be only one reason for that – it’s a gift because it supports his government’s policy of clearing disabled people – real, honest, disabled people who deserve state benefits to help them survive – off the benefit books.
If the wider public perception of disabled people is that they can compete and win in Olympic sports, then that’s half Cameron’s work done for him. No wonder he said it was “something we should encourage”!
Perhaps you thought the Paralympics were excellent – and they were. Maybe you thought they struck a blow for recognition of disabled people – and they did.
But not all disabled people are the same. I’m no marathon runner – and I consider myself to be relatively fit.
But I’m not superfit. Neither are the majority of disabled people even remotely able to achieve the feats of our Paralympians.
Cameron should be ashamed of himself for trying to group them all together in this way.
At the very least, Conservatives across the UK should be ashamed of him.