This election needs more Kathy Mohans
Kathy Mohan, who has mild learning difficulties and has suffered badly from benefit cuts, was thrust into the political limelight last week when she defied the Conservative campaign strategy and confronted the Prime Minister during a campaign walkabout.
“Do you know what I want? I want my disability living allowance to come back, I can’t live on £100 a month. They just took it all away from me,” she told a nodding Theresa May.
“I’ve got mild learning disabilities and I haven’t got a carer at the moment and I’m angry. And I would like somebody to help me, because I can’t do everything I want to do,” Mohan said.
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And May, with all the tone and look of a mother explaining to a toddler that putting dog poo in your mouth isn’t nice, but wants you to learn the lesson anyway, continued to try to explain to a desperate Mohan some of the things the government was doing to focus limited funds on those “most in need”.
But Mohan was having none of it. “I’m talking about everybody, not just me,” she said. “I’m talking about everybody who’s got mental health and learning disabilities. I want them not to have their money taken away from them and being crippled. The fat cats keep all the money and us lot get nothing.”
May, hands locked and head cocked to one side, tried to interject but Mohan continued to berate her over the highly controversial switch from the disability living allowance to personal independence payment under the Conservatives.
Under these changes – which Kathy Mohan knew to a penny – it means the criteria for receiving PIP have been tightened, leading to more than 160,000 vulnerable people, like Mohan, being denied the additional financial help they once received. And she gave it to May with both barrels.
For one day in that pretty market town of Abingdon in Oxfordshire, Kathy Mohan was a hero. Today, she’s back home alone in her one-bedroomed flat, no longer able to fund a carer and perhaps thinking what she calls her “dark thoughts”.
Mrs May, meanwhile, will be back on the campaign trail, saying how she will improve life for the many and not just the few.
That street encounter, the kind that May’s campaign team have been hiding her from, should have been the Gillian Duffy moment, that time when a politician is confronted by an actual voter and it comes to define an election.
Mrs Duffy spoke for an angry Labour-leaning working class when she raised the issue of immigration with Gordon Brown in 2010 but the leader of the Labour Party dismissed her as a bigot.
Kathy Mohan spoke for every person suffering from a learning disability or otherwise who has seen their benefits savagely stripped away by this government. Will she, too, be dismissed as ‘that silly woman’?
In a country that now has poverty levels not seen since Thatcher’s so-called Broken Britain, where nurses and police officers use food banks, where women have to fill in a form to ensure their child born of rape is not exempt from receiving benefits, where mobility vehicles are being taken from the disabled and where children are once again being brought up in dingy B&Bs or on the street, it is the Kathy Mohans of this world that should drive us all to fight for something better.
But after seven years in power the Tories are hardly having to engage in the fight. Despite a spiralling national debt, a divisive EU referendum, Brexit still to happen and the ongoing and relentless evidence of an epidemic of impoverishment, Theresa May looks set to increase her majority – and by some.
It’s ordinary people, like Kathy Mohan and Gillian Duffy, forced to live extraordinary lives – and not in a good way – who should make or break an election. But we live in bonkers times.
In Scotland, we have come to see a politics driven by binary concerns – not of the left or of the right but around the constitution, constantly reliving the ‘in’ and the ‘out’, the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’. And it has blinded our parties to what they are fighting for and who they are fighting against.
The SNP has become the political pariah with the Unionist parties coalescing around a common cause to ‘get them out’. But an election fought in Scotland based simply around giving the SNP a bloody nose is a false prospectus.
It will do nothing to change the trajectory of the Scottish Government, it will not change failings in the Scottish education system or keep a local hospital ward open or increase college places, and it is not a rehearsal for a second independence referendum.
And if, as some in the council election clearly did, you believe that your vote is sending that signal to the SNP, then you have been sold a pup. That is not what this election is about.
Of course, with the SNP having won 56 of the 59 seats available at Westminster two years ago, it is only by beating the SNP that other parties will get in but please, make it an honest fight.
Make it about the issues that matter.
Make it about welfare cuts, the insidious impact of poverty on people’s lives or holding the Tories at Westminster to account. Make it about what your party will do to keep the hard right, the hard Brexit in check. And make it about your Kathy Mohans, who last week spoke for the many and not just the few.