Meritocracy is the best Equalities policy

There was a piece on the BBC’s Daily Politics Show recently about the notion of All Disabled short lists for selecting Parliamentary candidates. It was likened to the idea of all women shortlists which were in operation within the Labour Party a few years back. For the record, I was violently opposed to that idea and I am equally as opposed to this ridiculous notion as well.

I am a disability rights activist to my core and as such people think that I must support these ideas. The premise of the ‘logical fallacy’ of “my dog has 4 legs; the cat next door also has 4 legs; therefore my dog must be a cat” applies here. My dog is not a cat and we cannot be seen to be making sweeping statements about disability rights by supporting selection merely from a list of disabled people or women.

As a Conservative, I believe wholeheartedly in equality of opportunity; not equality of outcome; and therefore I cannot accept the concept of selecting candidates purely on the basis that the candidate is disabled, female or gay – not only that, but I also believe in meritocracy and everyone getting where they want to be through the virtues of talent and hard work.

I write this from a position of empathy as I have had my own personal struggles with disability. I am disabled; I have dyspraxia, severe dyslexia and Irlens Syndrome. I have experienced how hard it can be to find work when disabled.

In the summer of 2016; the Conservative and Unionist Party elected its second female leader and its second female Prime Minister. The Conservative and Unionists in Scotland are led by a female leader. The Conservative Erewash Borough Council; where I hold my Council seat, is led by a female Conservative leader. So my point was always that we have some formidable women in politics in this country who were all elected without the use of a female short list. I think it is an absolute insult to the women who have got there on merit to suggest that anyone should be selected by limited shortlists.

The same principle must therefore apply to disabled people. I have been active in politics for around nine years. As a disabled Councillor; I find the idea of an all disabled shortlist totally abhorrent. Every disabled person that I have ever met strives to be accepted on a level playing field with their non-disabled counterparts. By matching me against only disabled candidates; you are taking the level playing field away.

There are currently 6 disabled MPs in the commons; several disabled peers in the Lords and countless disabled councillors across the country. I am living proof that selection and election is perfectly achievable as a disabled person and that meritocracy is the best equalities policy ever.

I understand the principle behind the idea of making Parliament more representative; but for me the Conservative government are representing disabled people better than ever. For example, the Conservative government has ensured that more disabled people are in work than ever before.

I see the notion of limited shortlists for women, disabled people or LGBT people as a poor attempt from the failing left at trying to prove the point that they still care. Stephen Kinnock said that he would like to see disabled lists in pilot within the Labour Party. In contrast, the Conservative government of today prove this through positive policies around employment.

If you want equality for disabled people and real representation, look to achieve less disabled people claiming benefits and instead more disabled people earning money and gaining self respect; and do not try to find it by patronising disabled candidates by only pitching them against other disabled candidates.

Cllr. Richard Harris is Parliament Street’s Disabilities Spokesman

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