Last week food writer Jack Monroe was heavily criticised in social media for her tweet about David Cameron: “Because he uses stories about his dead son as misty-eyed rhetoric to ￼legitimise selling our NHS to his friends: #CameronMustGo”
Perhaps Twitter may have not been the best platform for Monroe to raise this subject – but she is not alone in questioning his behaviour. Both disabled people, and parents of disabled children, have been complaining about this issue for a number of years. Some disabled activists have been so incensed that they’ve posted several online satirical virals about it. One viral showed a picture of David Cameron sitting on the settee with his son lying beside him with the caption “Yes, I did claim disability living allowance for my son. But I’m stopping it for everyone else, now I have no use for it”. Personally I found this particular viral below the line of acceptable political satire, but it does demonstrate the level of anger people feel about this issue.
The criticisms levied against Monroe’s somewhat milder comment were harsh, perhaps because she is such a prominent figure who doesn’t have a disability, or perhaps for other reasons. Sarah Vine, for example, wrote a homophobic and unsubstantiated article questioning Monroe’s mothering abilities because she is a lesbian. Monroe has also received some vile hate tweets wishing ill of her own son, all because she has voiced an opinion.
But was she wrong to have tweeted what she did? Like many of my disabled friends I truly sympathise with Mr Cameron’s loss of a child, and as a parent I can’t imagine anything worse. Many of us within the disabled community have lost lifelong friends, children or partners to impairments such as cerebral palsy. And I have no problem with Mr Cameron talking about his son when it is salient to political debates or general discussions. Politicians do occasionally draw on their own personal experiences to highlight a particular point or to show empathy. Recently, former minister Norman Tebbit spoke about caring for his disabled wife during a debate about the Assisted Suicide Bill. The trouble is that Mr Cameron often brings up his son at times when it is not relevant, or even worse, to avoid awkward questions about the damaging effects his draconian welfare reforms will have on poor people. And for me this is not okay.
There is a fine line between personal comments that are relevant in the political sphere, and ones that are there to create a political shield nobody dares to break. I appreciate that the Camerons understand the universal struggles of parenting a significantly disabled child, but they are wealthy and very removed from the average parent or family caring for such a child. They have never been a family dependent upon DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to ensure their child’s extra needs are being met. They didn’t have to cope with reductions in specialist care for their child because of local budget cuts. They haven’t required additional housing benefit to pay for an “extra” room to store essential medical equipment. And while they may have experienced filling in a DLA form, I doubt they have seriously worried about the loss of independence their child might suffer if that claim was rejected. Therefore, why does Cameron continue to bring up his son when these issues are being discussed?
Imagine if Nicky Morgan kept making immaterial remarks about her son’s educational development during debates about the national curriculum. People would quite rightly question her integrity and abilities as a politician – so why then is it okay for Mr Cameron to talk irrelevantly about his son whenever there is a debate about disability benefits or the NHS? I find the repeated use of his son’s deeply sad premature death unacceptable. Many politicians have lost children, partners and loved ones, however they do not drag it up to escape challenging questions or prove their leadership credentials. And as someone with cerebral palsy I feel particularly uncomfortable with this “misty-eyed rhetoric” because it comes across as if he is using his son as a ‘political ragdoll’. And I don’t like that.
So before condemning Monroe for being a loony, lefty, callous bitch, perhaps those who have publicly attacked her opinion should reconsider – disabled people, including many of us with the same impairments as Mr Cameron’s son, also find his constant referrals to his child distasteful.
I have cerebral palsy and I support Jack Monroe.
There is a fine line between personal comments that are relevant in the political sphere, and ones that are there to create a political shield nobody dares to break. I appreciate that the Camerons understand the universal struggles of parenting a significantly disabled child, but they are wealthy and very removed from the average parent or family caring for such a child.