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We need a Lib Dem role model for disabled people

February 21, 2016 2:41 PM
By Henry Foulds - Amber Valley in Liberal Democrat Voice

A couple of days ago, I found myself in quite an unusual situation. As a candidate for May's local elections, I was campaigning in my ward's town centre when someone flung their arms around me and gave me a great hug.

She told me she'd been watching me and was gobsmacked to see me doing what I was doing. As a visually impaired candidate, people are frequently a bit shocked to see me knocking on their doors. But this was different. She introduced me to her five-year-old daughter, who had just started learning how to use a white cane.

We had a lovely chat. The girl told me her cane was named Dora, after Dora the Explorer, and I explained that my cane had an orange handle, because that's my favourite colour.

They had to rush off, but as they left the girl's mum said something that will most probably stay with me forever. "It's great that my daughter has someone like her to look up to." We both choked back tears.

When we have a diverse set of councillors and MPs, it inspires others to get involved.

But members shouldn't have to be an "equality champion" just because they come from an under-represented group. The answer is to build a critical mass so that identity matters less, and we need that critical mass more than ever. The 2010 Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation discusses the importance of disabled role models for getting other's involved. There aren't many disabled MPs, and the most well-known disabled politician is David Blunkett.

And that's why I'm supporting the Electing Diverse MPs motion at spring Conference. I'm not going to stand back and let disabled people look up to someone with a horrendous record on civil liberties. If a scandal-hit Labour MP can act as a role model to disabled people, I know that a Liberal Democrat MP can do even better.

* Henry Foulds is a member and activist in Amber Valley, Derbyshire. He is standing in May's local elections