The party’s slogan, “For Hardworking People”, was plastered across the stage at the annual conference in Manchester earlier this month and featured prominently and repeatedly in the BBC’s coverage.
It also features on the party’s website, and its social media accounts, with its Twitter and Facebook pages declaring that the Conservatives are “on the side of hardworking people”.
But it was the slogan’s appearance on the stage in Manchester that caused one viewer of the BBC Parliament coverage of the conference to submit a complaint to Ofcom.
An Ofcom spokesman said the viewer had “objected to the slogan” and “felt that it discriminated against disabled people”.
But he added: “We decided not to pursue the complaint, based on the fact that the slogan was used by the Conservative party itself at the conference rather than the BBC, so the decision for the BBC to include the slogan in their coverage was therefore an editorial matter for them rather than a regulatory matter for Ofcom.”
He declined to give any further details of the complaint “for confidentiality reasons”.
He refused to say whether the viewer was male or female, or whether they had identified themselves as a disabled person.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) also said that it had not been able to investigate complaints about the slogan.
An ASA spokesman said: “We certainly had people being quite vociferous on Twitter about wanting to lodge complaints about the slogan, but it is outside our remit.
“Obviously we can understand why there is a debate, but political advertising is not subject to the advertising code.”
One Tory MP, Margot James, was quoted during the party conference saying she thought the slogan was a mistake because it excluded too many people, including “children, older people, retired folk, and people with disabilities and people who for whatever reason cannot work”.
This week, a string of disabled people took to Twitter to express their anger, after Disability News Service (DNS) asked for views about the slogan in the wake of the Ofcom decision.
The disabled photographer and writer Christopher John Ball told DNS that he had asked several Tory MPs “how they define [hardworking people] and whom do they exclude from their definition – none have answered”.
He added: “My concern is that it is yet one more attempt to divide and rule – it is an irresponsible slogan and meaningless but will hurt.”
Shelley Two Jumpers said: “To me it implies if you’re not ‘hardworking’ (sick or disabled eg) then you’re excluded from society and worthless. Tory mantra.”
She added: “Also think it carries an element of threat – if you’re not h/working (as defined by them) then you shouldn’t expect any help.”
Catherine Hale tweeted: “I work myself to collapse each day as a single mum with a disabling illness. But the Tories don’t mean me cos I’m on benefits.”
And anne pleberous said: “Most #disabled ppl are working hard just to stay alive #hardworkingpeople.”
Tony Britton tweeted: “There must be 1000s of disabled ppl like myself who were medically retired, often after decades of hard slog.”
The blogger and campaigner Kaliya Franklin, who tweets as @bendygirl, said: “I work bloody hard at being vomit Queen. Does anyone reward me for that?!? Do they heck. Hardworking Vomiters excluded.”
Another disabled campaigner, Jane, said: “Meaningless phrase that panders to knee jerk reactionaries… smacks of Victorian value judgements and the workhouse.”
David Gillon tweeted: “Is there any way to read it bar ‘lazy cripples can get stuffed’? Clrly we’re not kind of ppl they want to associate with!”
Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus report, who tweets at @spoonydoc, said: “No room in Tory Britain for anyone unable to work, however genuine their illness or disability. I’m unwelcome in my own country.”
And SJ tweeted: “As someone not able to work, ‘hardworking people’ makes me feel like I don’t matter to this govt, I’m irrelevant.”
But there was one disabled person willing to defend the slogan on Twitter.
The entrepreneur – and Conservative party member – Neil Barnfather, who tweets at @neilbarnfather, said: “Perhaps it could be argued: so they can earn money to pay tax, to create welfare, for those who need it?”
Meanwhile, on the DNS Facebook page, Kathleen Hunt said: “It discredits those of us who have had long working lives and paid sufficient [national insurance] contributions to achieve a full basic pension… but have had our working lives curtailed by acquired disabilities.”
Roger Harris added: “Yeh, I was hard working until I was 50 when I was forced to give up work because that work made me disabled. That was 16 years ago. I had a fairly young family still to support as well.
“They make me so angry. What right have these privileged upbringing millionaires got to demonise me and thousands, possibly millions more in their spite and hate ridden dogma.”
A Conservative party spokesman said: “Disabled people want to get on in life and work hard to do so just like everybody else and we are on their side.
“We disagree entirely with any suggestion that disabled people are not hardworking. This government has several programmes aimed specifically at helping disabled people back into work and we are working with businesses to end discrimination in the workplace.
“Britain is in fact a world leader in disability spend, totalling £50 billion every year.”
24 October 2013