Orwell's Animal Farm is an allegory about the corruptive influences of power under Stalinism, but sitting here tonight I find myself applying that same allegory to Labour.
Yesterday, at the Labour Party Conference, Ed Miliband held a Q&A session and was challenged by disability activist Kaliya Franklin (aka @BendyGirl, author of Benefit Scrounging Scum ) over his attitudes to disability. Charged by Kaliya that he was "reinforcing the destructive rhetoric" of the ConDems towards disabled benefit recipients, particularly through the disabled man he lambasted earlier this year as just as irresponsible as any banker because he hadn't been able to find work, attitudes repeated in his keynote speech on Tuesday, Miliband responded: "The problem is I met his next-door neighbours … and they didn't actually refer to him, but they said: 'Our problem is we are working incredibly hard and we are worried we are paying for people who can't work.'" And as far as Ed is concerned, that justifies condemning that man, and all disabled benefit recipients by extension. No thought that much of the impact of disability is invisible, no thought that the neighbours might just possibly be disablist, just he's disabled, they're angry, and they have more votes.
As Orwell had it as things went wrong for the lesser animals, 'Four Legs Good, But Two Legs Better'.
Now the interesting part of this from my personal perspective is that earlier this year I was interviewed by BBC South East about my experience of disability hate crime. One of the points that I made, and one that was backed on air by the disability charity Scope and other experts, was that the rise in hate crime results at least in part from government propaganda intended to confirm non-disabled people in their impression that disabled benefit recipients are all frauds and slackers. The Conservatives trotted out Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Chatham, to defend themselves. How did he do that? By saying that if people thought those around them were receiving disability benefits without deserving them, then they were fully entitled to be angry. No thought that much disability is invisible, no thought that the neighbours might just possibly be disablist, just he's disabled, they're angry, and they have more votes.
Two politicians, one a hardline Conservative, one the leader of the Labour Party, both making exactly the same argument to justify their attitude that criticism of disabled benefit recipients by those who know nothing about them is perfectly justified.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.