An Open Letter to Colchester @LibDems Parliamentary Candidate Mr Martin Goss

No legacy is so rich as honesty ~ William Shakespeare

Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people. ~ Spencer Johnson

It may sound like a cliche, or a banal aphorism, but such is the caustic nature of politics these days that it might be worth remembering that we really should expect our politicians to tell us the truth – and that the public whose votes are requested should have a right to expect that from their political leaders, or those who hope to be political leaders.

Maybe it has something to do with the brutality of austerity, the chaos of Brexit, or the influence of Presidents and Prime Ministers who treat the truth like a hand-me-down pair of old shoes, but honesty seems in short supply from our leaders right now – and as a disability and equal rights campaigner, I know just how badly lies end up oppressing the marginalised when the truth no longer matters to our political and community leaders.

It ought to matter, then, that those who seek to represent us in Parliament set a higher standard than that. The consequences of dishonest political leadership are rarely paid by the politicians, but by the most vulnerable, the poorest and the most marginalised. And that begins by telling the voters, truthfully, who you are.

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It was a simple enough question, which could have been answered quickly – why is the Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate in Colchester, Martin Goss, calling himself the Liberal Democrat ‘Parliamentary Spokesperson’ instead of ‘candidate’,  when (as far as I know) absolutely no other candidate for the next General Election refers to themselves that way – not even the ones who are currently sitting MP’s.

I have checked on some other LibDem candidates, and they all use the word ‘candidate’ to describe themselves, so it doesn’t appear to be some sort of national policy by the Liberal Democrats. In that case – what makes Mr Goss so special, or different, that he can call himself  ‘parliamentary spokesperson’? Because my curiosity was peaked, I asked him via social media – he didn’t respond, and I waited a while and tried again. (And I made sure I was being polite about it).

He blocked me.

This, I’m afraid, only made me more curious – if the reasons for Mr Goss calling himself something other than a ‘candidate’ were transparent, why be so coy? Why avoid simply answering the question. I tried the local LibDem leader and local LibDem party – again, no response. In one attempt to avoid answering the question, Mr Goss tried to imply I was using the campaign account for @eactnowuk for political purposes – apparently oblivious to the fact that the campaign of which I am co-founder was set up for explicitly political purposes. (Slightly beside the point, but Mr Goss appears to have a hard time with the idea that disabled people don’t have equal rights because of politics).

He did, very briefly today, surface via email when I errantly used the word ‘representative’,  perhaps hoping for a ‘gotcha’ moment, and demanding proof from me. He’s been less eager to respond after my apologising for any confusion and posting that apology publicly.

No, I don’t think that Mr Goss incorrectly using the word ‘spokesperson’ will deny disabled people rights – but I do think that if Mr Goss is unable to be transparent about this, what else would he be prepared to be less than transparent about?

It is a simple question Mr Goss: why do you – and you alone of all of the other candidates across the country – refer to yourself as a parliamentary spokesperson? Do you regularly go to parliament to consult with the parliamentary party? If so, does that interfere with the role that you have been elected to – that of local borough councillor?

Or is it somewhat less prosaic than that – is it simply, and as I strongly suspect, that your ego got the better of you, and you don’t have the integrity required to be honest with yourself, far less the voters of Colchester?

And who knows, you may even have answered that question by the time a General Election is finally called, but if you haven’t, you can be assured that I will be at every hustings, asking that question as many times as it takes for you to answer it.

Sincerely

 

UPDATE: Yesterday morning I received a reply to an email which I sent to Martin Goss, the Liberal Democrat party and others, about the use of the term ‘parliamentary spokesperson’ (his facebook campaign page is listed under that title). He was sorry to hear that my chronic pain issues continue, and then turned his attention to the political campaign group EActNOWUK, of which I am co-founder. He criticised using our email for political purposes, (something something, impartial, something), and said it would be more appropriate to use my personal twitter (which I initially had, and he’d blocked me rather than answer me, so). 

He went on to criticise me for not providing ‘legal reasons’ for why he could not refer to himself as a spokesperson, and to explain the following in relation to the use of the term of ‘parliamentary spokesperson:

The team used “Parliamentary Spokesperson” is perfectly legitimate to use and in any correspondence other than using a completely different term up until now, you’ve not actually pointed out how factually or legally this term is actually incorrect.
I am indeed a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in Colchester for all Parliamentary related matters.
I am also the adopted Parliamentary Candidate for Colchester and have been since late 2018 where Colchester members voted to select me overwhelmingly.
This seems indicate a few things; the Colchester Liberal Democrat Party chose to use the term; that he was considered (or considered himself) the ‘parliamentary spokesperson’ before his selection as prospective parliamentary candidate, and that his role is in addition to his selection to stand as MP. (I would also point out that it was only the constituency party who voted for him ‘overwhelmingly’, but I appreciate that spin is often considered important by politicians).
In light of that, I had a number of questions, to which I await a response:
1. What are your main functions, tasks, duties and responsibilities as a ‘parliamentary spokesperson’?
2. How often are you required to attend parliament?
3 Who do you work and liaise with at parliament, what type of questions and issues are discussed and how often do you report back to your constituents (not just fellow LibDem party members)?
4. Since I can’t find another LibDem candidate who refers to themselves as you do, and cannot find any reference in LibDem literature or online information about parliamentary candidates being called anything other than that, was this your idea, was it discussed with the national party leadership, and who helped set up any formal structures with the parliamentary party that would enable you to carry out that function?
These are serious questions, and as somebody who wants to earn the votes of the people of Colchester I am sure you will have no problem in answering them fully and transparently. 
I await a response with bated breath…..

poem: inappropriate

how should i say it?

what words should i use,

to point to uncomfortable things that you do –

 

when you’re snippy cos you think that straight

folk

ain’t properly being acknowledged for what they do;

 

as if we should be grateful that you don’t complain too much

about that;

yes, how should i word that?

 

or when you’re reminded

that you’ve paid no mind

to disabled people –

(why, no! of course you never meant to be unkind).

 

or if we seem too much to mind

that you’ve given us some little time,

and that should be enough, no matter what

or who

gets left behind.

 

how would you have me say that

in a way that

does not

offend

you?

 

or should we recognise

that you offense

is a problem

too?

 

 

poem: the view from down here

if every time you closed a door, i whistled –

then i would whistle every day, if not each night;

and should i sing with every incidence of rudeness,

i would be singing 3 more hours – tho’ the singing won’t delight

 

if each time some person patronised or patted

upon on my head as though i might play fetch;

i swear i would be howling at the moon dear –

most nights’ till i pass out, or from it retch

 

were i to whoop with wild abandon, and excitement,

each time i find exclusion, i’d be whooping without pause –

and you’d look at me all peculiar and offended,

,for being some great drama queen, seeking overblown applause.

 

when silence is complicit with the order

(wherein this whole wrong self would be much better hid away).

i will howl, and stamp, and sing, and scream and whoop holy disorder

and if that makes you uncomfortable, the exit door is that way.

 

oh whoops, oh dear, and sorry if you thought me

respectable and sweet, or so demure –

i sing of a rude and glorious disorder,

my own italian job, that blows up bleeding doors.

poem: exclusion

you do not notice it

– or there were times, perhaps, where you once did,

that with every slamming door

the meaning of my smile misplaced in you belief that you could

shut it again,

and again more;

 

when all my smile meant to convey

that whilst understood,

the slamming of the door was not something that was good

for me;

 

i am no saint and will not for this hurt apologise –

love forgives, and weeps those who weep

that clearer be the vision,

when love patient stoops to dry the eye

 

exclusion makes its scars, this flesh cannot but remark,

tho’ wish i often it would speak in quieter tone;

you hear it,

yet i am left unheard.

It’s a Jungle Out There: Learning the Language of Danger (or, Don’t Dismiss ‘Feminine Intuition’) cn/tw

I’ve been reflecting recently, after meeting up again with an old friend, on how my perceptions of relationships have both evolved and changed: I first knew my friend when I was 18 and she was 3 or 4 years younger, and our families knew each other well. As it happened I was going out withan older member of her family, though it was a less than healthy relationship, for all sorts of reasons.

My then partner was abusive – but so were his friends. More than one or two of them, at one time or another, tried awkwardly, drunkenly or aggressively to shove their tongues down the back of my throat whilst trying to tune my breasts in to Radio Caroline by the magic of using my nipples for dials – and I was 18, and in an abusive relationship. Some nights, my nightmares were made of dozens of free floating hands.

It was a working class environment, but no, that doesn’t make domestic violence more likely. The violence, control or assault which comes from the more privileged social backgrounds just has a slightly different costume, and a mildly altered script. But [usually] LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled working class women are more likely to depend on social assistance from local government, to be able to extricate themselves from the violence. These were the women who were the core of my friendship group – they were hard working and house proud (rightfully so): they make sure the money stretches (less easy now), and get creative when need demands. Long before ‘upcycling’, LBTQIA/cis/BAME/disabled women knew how make the clothes, the furniture, or that old tub in the shed into something that felt like you had something new, and special.

The trope of the slovenly single parent on a council estate, given flesh via Thatcher’s hardening rhetoric in the ’80’s – and later ‘Little Britain’s’ grotesque cartoon of an over painted child in a pink tracksuit – jars in me, then as now. My family lived on a middle class suburban estate, very nuclear but my Dad’s lower management job was the first of the rungs of management to go in a number of large London-based corporations as they geared up for Thatchers first big privatisation push (so I had comparative but nevertheless very real privilege). But I had gone to a council estate Comprehensive school, and spent most of my early social life on that estate (a whole other story). And then spent the two years I was in that abusive relationship living on another- and I have to tell you (and if I do have to tell you, then considered yourself in receipt of a look), that every single one of those tropes about (usually working class) single mothers was, and is, a long, long way from the truth.

Whilst there weren’t less hands as I got older, I learned to navigate … all that stuff (insert gesticulating hands to indicate unwanted male attention) better. Okay, no, I didn’t: I just accepted I was happier and healthier learning not to be ashamed of being ‘the introverted one’** – so it would be more accurate to say that I’ve therefore spent less time in situations where …unwanted advances might be a possibility.

And no, that’s not the same thing as hiding. Though it is also true that even when you’re disabled, you’re not safer – in fact it’s more likely. A confident introvert doesn’t need to be a dichotomy.

But I also trust my instinct now, sometimes even before the evidence of my eye. My instinct is my instinct for reasons, and I don’t argue with it. If a person gives me certain vibes, that person and I aren’t likely to be developing any sort of relationship. And whilst I will own to being hyper vigilant (and chronically anxious), the reasons my instincts are my instincts, are because they learnt what I was slow to trust.

Contrary to what the patriarchal/masculine/western/christianised tropes will tell you, ‘instinct’ is nothing more or less than a subconscious learning of patterns of behaviour, the identification of trigger points, the body language, the tells – you know, those little signs of trouble; learning the language of danger, and of warning. It’s perfectly logical, and y’all loved Tim Roth doing it in Lie to Me.*** Memory is a muscle too.

There’s also the other face of the coin that comes with the extra vulnerability to coercive control, domestic violence and assault as a disabled woman – that we are simultaneously assumed to be sexless, absent of desire, and undesirable.  (And whilst I love my queer community – no, y’all are no more inclusive than able bodied communities a lot of the time, but that’s a whole other conversation).

So it’s no less a jungle now, than when I was 18, though I’ve through passed from Tropical Forest through to Tropical Savannah (and once, by accident, through a saltwater swamp, though this may be a slur upon saltwater swamps). Also, I’m not alone in sharing that whilst most predators are usually straight cis men, sometimes they are not****, so if you ever feel a bit Lost in a Scrub and Thornbush Savannah with that one I believe you.

* we used to call it ‘going out with’ when I was – well, younger. ‘Dating’ certainly wasn’t a term used within 20 parsecs of where I was spending my youth. I’m also apparently now of an age where I note these things. There’s probably no hope for me to be honest.

** I am the product of an introvert (who did a lot of pretending to be an extrovert) parent, and an extrovert parent, (they’re divorced, and happily so).  And it is possible for an extrovert parent to accept that no amount of cajoling is going to change said introverted child. 

***I once had a knock-down-drag-out with a friend who was one-of-those-screaming-misogynists-with-extra-mummy-issues (who thought of himself as a forward looking and progressive man – and yeah, I know), who insisted that ‘feminine intuition’ (grrrrr) was a nonsense, compared to the slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science, that was the staple of Lie to Me’s 2(?) seasons – slightly dodgy, rather glossy pseudo science being apparently more acceptable than ‘feminine intuition’.  Because of course <insert rolling eye emoji>

**** Yes, women are capable of reproducing patriarchal violence.

 

 

An Open Letter to My MP @willquince – Don’t Ride Roughshod Over the Voices of Your Disabled Constituents

Will Quince, MP for Colchester since 2015

 

Dear Will

Since I first contacted you almost 10 months ago about my application for ESA, and my concerns about this given that I am a wheelchair user, I have sought to communicate to you the multiple issues of inaccessibility at Colchester’s ESA Assessment Centre. I have sought to do so with patience, with reason and with a (now obviously misplaced) hope that you would listen to all of the concerns, frustrations, fears and experiences of those of us who have been subjected to the discriminations that arise from those many problems.

Don’t worry Will – I’m not looking for a conversation on social media about this. It’s just that whatever patience, reason and hope I had that you would put party politics aside and help tackle the discrimination your disabled constituents face has this week finally evaporated. You have now made it clear that you are not interested in raising up the voices of your local constituents. If you want to keep spinning the report that a mutual acquaintance drew up about the inaccessibility of the building as a report commissioned by you, be my guest. It is only one of the many incidents in which you have been utterly disrespectful of the work that my friends and I have been forced to engage with over the last 3 years since you became our MP. We recognise that we are in the wrong political party for you, and that a great many of our concerns and fears won’t be addressed because of it.

As you know, the door to the ESA Assessment Centre in Colchester is impassable to wheelchair and mobility scooter users, and presents a significant barrier to many more who require other mobility aids (due to the width of the door and how heavy it is). The intercom at the door has no hearing loop, so is useless for deaf wheelchair and mobility scooter users. At the 2015 meeting which DPAC held with you, they raised this. It was not followed up. When my friend Jaki wrote to those concerned to request a foldable ramp as a reasonable adjustment and advised you she had so, in November 2016, it was not followed up. When she advised you in the summer of last year that she had been found ‘fit for work’ as a result of not being able to attend her appointment – you had no questions to ask on her behalf about this.

When I wrote to you last year, you eventually seemed to show some willingness to engage with that issue. Yet when this elicited a fairly cursory note from the Minister of State for Disabled, Health & Work Sarah Newton MP – that it was not possible to make the building physically accessible – you had nothing to say about reasonable adjustments, and no questions to ask about that either.

Are you familiar with the Equality Act at all Will? Seriously – are you? Because in all these months, despite mine, and my friends repeated references to it over the last 3 years, you haven’t mentioned it once – the word ‘discrimination’ has never been used by you either, despite the multiple evidences of it that we have presented you with.

Of course, the inaccessibility of the building is just where the problems for disabled and chronically sick people start – and that’s where we seem to lose your willingness to engage, and address the issues, and confront the reality of your disabled constituents difficulties. And I’m sorry Will, but given how close I’ve come, repeatedly over the last year, to losing my friend I have not one more scrap of patience to give you.

When she wrote to tell you that she had been given inaccessible appointments, and been found fit for work for ‘failing to attend’ those inaccessible appointments this was your response:

The letter sent to Jaki Whyte, by Will Quince MP, in August 2017

When she told you that her tribunal had been held without her (or her benefits officer) being present (because of the DWP’s failure to send through the date and paperwork until AFTER the tribunal had been held – which is an accessibility issue), you ‘appreciated’ my friends ‘desire’ for a new tribunal and offered to write to the tribunal service.

Did you? Only my friend has now been living below the poverty line for 50 weeks, and her physical and mental health is hanging on by a mighty fine thread, and she’s been told she may have to wait up to 6 months, just for a statement of reasons. We didn’t ask you to pay lip service to these issues – we asked for your help in resolving them.

That’s why we asked you to make the meeting you are seeking with Sarah Newton accessible to us and other disabled and chronically sick constituents: because of the multiple issues of inaccessibility, and because you have never once indicated that you understand how egregiously our rights (not to say your governments own law) have been breached. We asked you to make that meeting accessible because we want the chance to speak to those responsible for the discrimination we are subject to, and because we have been silenced repeatedly – not least of all by your own inaction, certainly in my friends case, and likely more given that we’re now being approached by more disabled people who have been through this. IN COLCHESTER.

You are not disabled Will – and your inability to appreciate what is being done to us speaks for itself

Whatever happens in the next couple of days Will, please remember one thing: we asked for your help. We asked for it repeatedly and politely, over and over – and over – again.

But we never got it.

Regards

Ali

#EActNOWColchester Facebook

#EActNOWColchester Petition