Liberal Democrat party conference: Peer could be first wheelchair-user to lead party


newslatestA disabled peer could be set to become the first wheelchair-user to head a major UK political party.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton is campaigning to become president of the Liberal Democrats, and is up against three other candidates. One survey of party members placed her as joint second favourite to win the post.

She believes that if Liberal Democrats elect her as president later this year, she will be the first disabled person to head her party, and the first wheelchair-user to take such a role in any major UK political party.

Baroness Brinton is a former bursar of two Cambridge colleges, a trustee of the United Kingdom Committee of UNICEF, a director of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, and former chair of Cambridgeshire Learning and Skills Council.

She began her working life at the BBC, was later a successful venture capitalist, and now has a particular interest in education, skills and learning.

It was her idea to launch her party’s leadership programme, which aims to increase the number of women, black and minority ethnic, disabled and LGBT MPs.

Although she believes the party could elect two or three more MPs with invisible impairments at next year’s general election, she says she has “failed with visible disabilities”.

She said: “It has been very difficult to persuade ordinary party members that the public can see past the disability.

“They have all said how impressed they are with these candidates, but they think the public will not [be able to see past the impairment].”

Because the Liberal Democrats do not have any safe seats, party members do not want to take a risk on a winnable seat with a “visibly disabled” candidate.

So far, Baroness Brinton, her party’s spokeswoman on health in the Lords, is one of four female candidates to succeed Tim Farron as party president, with competition from Daisy Cooper, Linda Jack and Liz Lynne.

She has been an occasional wheelchair-user for about three years, but “fairly permanently” for the last year.

And she said she hoped that, if elected president, she would be able to “open doors” within the party and parliament on disability issues, while also forcing organisations outside politics to take the issue of access more seriously.

8 October 2014