A disabled Reuters journalist and Labour activist hopes to become what he believes would be the first MP with such a significant level of impairment to be elected to the House of Commons.
Peter Apps, a global affairs commentator with Reuters news agency, is hoping to be selected in – traditionally – one of Labour’s safest seats at the next general election.
He was speaking to Disability News Service at this week’s Labour party conference in Brighton.
Apps is one of up to 18 candidates fighting to be selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Vauxhall, in south London, a seat being vacated by Kate Hoey at the next general election.
But if he is selected he would likely have to provide the funding himself for the support he would need while campaigning.
This is because of the government’s refusal to reinstate the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares for disabled people seeking election to parliament.
The EnAble fund, a partial and temporary replacement for AEOF, is only open to those seeking local elected office in England and is not open to would-be MPs.
Apps (pictured) would be able to pay for his own support because of a legal settlement, but he knows that many others with his significant level of impairment would not be able to do that. It is one of the reasons he is determined to secure a seat in parliament.
Apps is a former war reporter, who became paralysed in 2006 after breaking his neck while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka when he was just 25.
He has regained limited movement in one arm but lacks movement in his hands.
He believes, if selected to fight a seat for Labour, that he would be the candidate with the most significant level of impairment to contest a parliamentary seat for a major political party.
After the accident in 2006, he initially secured a decent support package from Tower Hamlets council, allowing him to live independently.
But this was gradually eroded as a result of spending cuts and he was told by a social worker four years ago that if he had not been able to support himself financially through a significant personal injury settlement he secured from Reuters, he would likely have been placed in a nursing home.
He now funds most of his care package himself, although he does receive financial support through disability living allowance.
His target is to secure the nomination in Vauxhall, where he now lives, but if he is unsuccessful, he hopes to fight another seat, although it would be likely to cost a substantial amount as he would need to stay in a hotel with rooms for two support workers if he fought an election campaign outside London.
He said: “It is costing me a fortune to be down here [in Brighton] for a couple of days but because of the settlement I can do this. Most people can’t.”
He was previously working as a reporter, covering areas such as global defence and emerging markets – during the financial crash – but it was only when he became a columnist that he was able to pursue his wish to become an MP, because of the company’s need to steer clear of accusations of political bias by its reporters.
After serving as a reservist at university, he has now returned to the army, this time as a part-time specialist adviser on media skills and emerging forms of warfare, while also mentoring young soldiers.
He says that being asked to return as a reservist gave him the confidence to pursue his political ambitions.
He is inspired, he says, by Labour’s disabled former home secretary David Blunkett, and by former Labour minister David Lammy.
“If I was elected, I would be representing largely non-disabled people, but I would like to be a good disabled MP, just as David Lammy is a black MP and an incredible role model.
“He and David Blunkett would be two examples of political leaders who are not defined by their characteristics but the fact that they are there makes an enormous difference to a very large number of people.”
But he says the barriers he faces are different to those faced by Blunkett.
He said: “Blind people have been part of society, working, for centuries, but those as physically disabled as me often died, at least until the last 75 years.
“That’s one reason I feel it is important that I do this. When I have thought of dropping out, I remember the reason I am doing it, which is that there is no-one looking like me who has really done this before in Britain.
“It would be an enormous step forward for disabled people but it’s the constituency party’s selection process.
“They don’t want the most disabled MP in history, they want the best person for Vauxhall, and they will make that judgement.”
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