When it came to voting in an election for the very first time, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I would vote for Labour. Working class born and bred, nerdy Politics student who knew a Green vote would be wasted in our First Past the Post system, couldn’t bear the Tories, and saw the Lib Dems as an ‘also ran’. Yep, my X was definitely going in Labour’s box.
Much to my joy, Labour won the first election I voted in. I didn’t agree with all of their policies, or even like Blair all that much, but they represented my ideals and my background far more than any of the other parties. So I was happy; my little, wonky X had helped them to victory.
Fast forward to last year’s election. I’d spent all day at the hospital, but it was a close run campaign, and I was determined to vote. Dad had to wheel my chair right up to the booth, but I hauled myself up, read the papers repeatedly for the sake of my easily confused tired out brain, and then made another wonky X for Labour.
When the Tories made a coalition with the Lib Dems, I was achingly disappointed; the idea of spending at least four years under their supposedly joint government was almost painful. I knew all too well how the Conservatives treated the working class and those in need, like me, and it was plain to see, right from the start that Nick Clegg and co. just filled the benches. They soon came to be known as the ConDems, and along with my ill and disabled friends, I quickly realised just how apt that moniker was.
It wasn’t long before the ConDems started targeting the sections of society that they perceived to be the easiest: people with disabilities and illnesses, their carers, the elderly, and those who are vulnerable. Cuts in services provided by councils were happening at an alarming rate, the cost of services for those who need them rose dramatically, carers were being put under even greater strain. And then the vicious, painful rhetoric started.
Disabled and ill people have long been treated with contempt and even cruelty, particularly those with invisible illnesses or mental disabilities, but now the government seemed to be encouraging it, fanning the fire of distrust with words, and turning it into hatred.
Making those of us with disabilities and illnesses synonymous with ‘scroungers’, ‘benefit cheats’, the work shy and irresponsible lay-about, draining society with our greed and idleness actively increased disablist content in the media and actions in society: people have been verbally abused, vile notes have been left on cars where Blue Badges are displayed, carers have been spat at, and even worse.
As this situation worsened, Labour supporters like myself were certain Ed Miliband would speak out, defend us, and make clear the distinction between those of us who cannot work – however desperately we want to – and those who won’t work and have no desire to. We hoped that he would support us, and tell the world how we loathe those people who are making careers by faking the pain, trauma and misery we often live with, through no choice of our own.
But Mr Miliband stayed silent, ignoring our plight, and eschewing any hint of Socialism Labour had left – society sharing what it has to ensure everyone is supported.
Then the unthinkable happened; Ed Miliband began to use the same kind of language as the opposition. Truly, I could’ve cried. I, and many others, had been waiting for Labour to oppose what their opponents were saying: to show the discrepancy between the percentage of benefit fraud rates and the percentage of the government cuts; to state that the ATOS tests are ridiculous and give false results, as a man declared “fit for work” died just two weeks later, of the illness he was deemed to be exaggerating; to support carers and explain the millions they are saving the country by not leaving their loved ones to be looked after in care homes or hospitals; to tell the country that we are not scroungers, and that every single healthy person is just an illness or injury away from being in our position.
When Ed Miliband announced Q&A sessions on Twitter, many of us hoped they would be the way to engage him, to garner his support, or just get a 140 character statement that we’re being treated unjustly. Disability campaigners, individuals and on behalf of groups, sent tweet after tweet, hoping one would be seen, as did our Twitter friends with physical or mental health problems. Amongst untold tweets from our “community”, only one garnered a response, which could have come from any ConDem – all tiers of society have to be responsible, from the bottom to the top. The implication that we are at the bottom cut like a surgical scalpel.
Throughout each Q&A, we waited for more responses, thinking that surely we would be acknowledged? But no, favourite muffin flavours and other trivial nonsense was more important than Labour supporters who were desperate for his help.
When I think of the next election, I feel completely lost. The ConDems are marching ever closer to being my worst political nightmare come true, but for the first time ever, I truly do not know if I can bring myself to vote Labour. The party I’ve always supported has no support for me, or my friends. Ed Miliband spends his time parroting whatever David Cameron has said the day before, leaving voters like me to be spat at, to be deprived of our basic daily needs of food, cleanliness, human contact, and to be so fearful for our futures that some become suicidal, or actually take their lives.
I’ve always been adamant that those who have the vote should use it. Especially women, for whom the Suffragettes fought so hard for, and when women around the world are still be kept away from the voting booth, like an underclass.
Now we, who have disabilities and illnesses, are becoming an underclass, and so our ability to vote is a treasure.
But who on earth do we vote for? Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems have all merged together, creating a three-party system that strikes fear into anyone who cannot care for themselves or needs support. A vote for any other party is a wasted one. So do I not vote at all?
When I stand, wobbling, in the booth at the next election, I have no idea where my wonky X will go. Or if it will go anywhere at all.
Thanks to you, Mr Miliband, I’m another love Labour’s lost.