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Conservatives leave chair empty

The Empty Chair Debate - Do People with Learning Disabilities Matter to Politicians?

The threat of an empty chair persuaded the Prime Minister to attend the TV debates. Warm words from the Conservative Party about engaging with voters with learning disabilities have not been backed up with action. The only empty chair at LDA England’s Citizen Jury Event is that of the Conservative Party.

Timed to coincide with the seven-way debate on ITV, the Citizen Jury Event, in central London on Thursday 2nd April, will see a panel of people with learning disabilities and their families ask questions of:

  • Labour Party - Kate Green - PPC for Stretford and Urmston - Labour Shadow Disability Minister
  • Liberal Democrats - Baroness Barker - Spokesperson on Health in the Lords 
  • Green Party - Marion Turner-Hawes - PPC for Wellingborough and Member of Green Party Disability Group
  • UKIP - Star Etheridge - PPC for Wolverhampton North East - UKIP Disability Spokesman

The Conservative Party are the only party not to reply to the invitation issued by Baroness the Professor Sheila Hollins and Gary Bourlet of People First England.

This stands in stark contrast to the way in which the Conservatives have publicly represented their attitude towards people with learning disabilities, for instance:

  • David Cameron told Mencap: “It is really important that as well as providing the support that people with learning disabilities and their families need, MPs of all parties listen to the challenges they face.”
  • Esther McVey, the previous Disability Minister, in her election material, features a photograph of Gary Bourlet and Kaliya Franklin of People First England, who are members of LDA England.
  • Mark Harper, the current Disability Minister, says candidates should “engage with people in their communities with learning disabilities to make sure they listen to their views and to encourage them to register and vote.”

There is still time for the Conservative Party to send a representative to the Citizen Jury Event.

Although there will not be an empty chair on the TV debate there may still be an empty chair as our Citizen Jury review and mark each party.

The scores will be made public after the event, helping the many millions of voters whose lives are touched by those with learning disabilities to decide who will best represent them.