Almost ten years ago I met a promising young Oxfordshire MP. I belonged to a small group of parents of kids with severe learning disabilities, campaigning to keep our local respite services open. The Local authority had threatened to close three of the counties centres which had they succeeded would have taken away a lifeline to so many families, desperately needing a break from caring for their severely disabled children. My own son was then twelve years old and the breaks we’d received over the years had kept him living at home with us, kept our family together and kept our sanity…(well just about re the sanity!)
The MP I met was a huge support to us in those days. He was himself the parent of a profoundly disabled child and understood the pressures families like ours were under. It was refreshing to meet someone who potentially could make a big difference to our campaign. He spoke in Parliament about our plight (and others like us). Speaking from his own personal experience and those of the families he’d met he gave other MP’s an insight into the difficulties we faced. His in depth understanding of these issues made his words more powerful. How we cheered! Finally someone with the power to make a difference “gets it” In one speech in Parliament he said of parents of disabled children “we may not all be in the same boat but we are very definitely all in the same sea” He was one of us!
When he became Leader of the Opposition his speech again included the issue of carers of disabled kids. Hurray! we cried, here was a man, if given the chance, who was really going to change things for families like ours. I e-mailed him congratulating him and urged him not to forget “us little people on the ground” He e-mailed back, thanking me for my kind words.
I argued with people who said that, because he was rich, he couldn’t possibly understand and those who said he only sees it from the perspective of kids with complex health needs. The man I spoke too just “got it” as far as I was concerned. He was a good bloke! I liked him!
Ten years on this promising young MP, the person I had such great hopes for is now the leading the Coalition Government. A Government hell bent, it seems, on destroying everything that’s been improved over the last ten to twenty years for disabled children, disabled adults, people with learning disabilities and anyone else who needs social care services.
Support for “those most in need” and the “Big Society”, have been two overused phrases for this Government, but this support is dwindling because the big society that was there to begin with is being eroded by their current policies. A “perfect storm” has been created for people like my son, cuts to local authority budgets, cuts to welfare benefits and the support systems meant to protect those most vulnerable are being systematically destroyed bit by bit. The sea has become a lot choppier and it’s likely there will be shipwrecks. I wonder who has been advising him, who has he been listening too, because it’s certainly not been the “little people on the ground”
When my son was first diagnosed (with his bit missing) one parent said to me, “it’s like you’ve joined a club you never wanted to join” I realised quite quickly that this was true and I’ve drawn strength from other parents ever since. I’ve learned to like this “club”, we’ve laughed together, cried together and supported each other. I’ve met the most remarkable people whom I have the greatest respect and admiration for and this promising young MP happened to be one of them.
So how do I feel now?
Well in truth I feel a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi when he found out Anakin Skywalker had turned to the dark side… “You were the chosen one Anakin! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness” (apologies to none Star Wars fans here but G loves it and we’ve watched the series more times than I care to admit!)
I’ve gone beyond being disappointed. It just doesn’t quite cut it anymore! Angry, incensed and frustrated, let down and conned feels more accurate. Miss led, duped and hoodwinked…I could go on, but you probably get the picture. I feel a little stupid too because I always thought I was a pretty good judge of character and I can’t believe I misjudged someone so much. It’s made me doubt my instincts about people when I always thought they were pretty spot on. But, more than anything I feel betrayed and being betrayed by one of your own leaves a very nasty taste!