A strangely under-reported story from last week was the embarrassing and appalling news of Labour MPs – yes, Labour MPs – mocking Conservative MP Paul Maynard for having cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a variety of motor conditions which can affect each patient in a different way, but commonly results in muscular spasms across the face and body. According to reports, whilst Mr Maynard was on his feet in the commons chamber making a speech on the Child Trust Fund, he noticed a number of Labour MPs pulling exaggerated, spasmodic faces at him, whilst laughing and egging each other on.
The complaint isn’t born from being thin-skinned. Mr Maynard’s constituents have asked him to do a job, and whilst many may disagree with the conclusions the Conservative Party has reached on the Child Trust Find, he has the right to be able to express his views without victimisation or abuse.
Can you imagine the uproar if a group of Tory MPs had behaved in such a way to a disabled Labour colleague? Shadow ministers, MPs, councillors, Facebookers, Tweeters and more would have gone into overdrive – ‘same old Tories’ they would argue. Those of a mind to believe Conservatives are all baby-eating toffs would have had a field day.
Some have made excuses for the MPs in question, saying that they did not know Mr Maynard suffered from the condition. If this is the case, then the MPs involved were still mocking their opponent for looking different, for having ‘funny’ facial expressions. To a lesser degree I’ve been there myself. My childhood stutter (more Gareth Gates than George VI) found me the victim of playground bullies who, one day, gave me such a beating that I’ve had a slightly odd-shaped jaw ever since. I’ve been mocked for it in childhood and adulthood, occasionally by people using it to dismiss the value of my work.
I’ve written on this site before about the desperate need for a civilised, mature political discourse; yet once again it is those in the Labour Party, our party, who are losing us the moral high ground. People have not forgotten the Damian McBride saga, and the reason why stories of Gordon Brown’s tantrums and the bullying behaviour of his allies struck a chord with the public is because they looked at the protagonists and believed that they were capable of behaving in such a way.
The vast majority of people across all levels of our party will rightly be appalled by what has happened. We are the ones who deliver the leaflets, pound the streets, stuff the envelopes – so why should we put up with these unpleasant people bringing our party into disrepute? And indeed, why should Speaker Bercow tolerate such behaviour in a parliament which is meant to be the very model of old-fashioned British decency?
Since the inception of the Labour Party over a century ago, Labour has stood up for the workers, demanding and securing the right of people in any walk of life to be protected from workplace harassment. Yet we find ourselves in a party where those at the top do not always practice what they preach. Whether the Labour MPs involved in the abuse of Mr Maynard were aware of his disability or not, anyone who seeks to dismiss the professional contribution of a colleague on the basis of their looks is fighting against everything we stand for, and has no place in the Labour Party as a result.