Despite promising to meet with some of the groups he referred to in a speech in the House of Commons last week, Paul Maynard has still failed to apologise publicly.
Maynard even tried unsuccessfully to convince Hansard, which provides the official record of what is said on the floor of the House, to remove the word “extremist” from his speech.
He had been speaking during a debate on the need for the government to assess the combined impact on disabled people of all of its cuts to disability support and services.
Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, had paid tribute to Pat Onions, the author of Pat’s Petition, which is campaigning for the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”.
A petition around the campaign secured nearly 63,000 signatures before it closed last November.
Byrne also praised the WOW petition, which is similarly seeking a cumulative impact assessment of the cuts, and is open until December 2013.
But Maynard accused Labour of being “dragged to this chamber by Pat’s Petition, We Are Spartacus [an online network of disabled campaigners] and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority”.
He then launched an attack on another “extreme” campaigning organisation, the Campaign for a Fair Society, most of whose members are organisations providing services for people with learning difficulties.
Onions was in the gallery of the Commons to watch the debate, and was shocked and dismayed when she heard herself and colleagues being called “extremists”.
Maynard was told this week by Pat’s Petition that his words had caused “enormous offence”.
In response, he said he regretted if his use of the word “extremist” had caused any “personal offence”.
He said: “It was not something I had intended to say when preparing my contribution, and whilst that is no excuse, I acknowledge why so many do feel offended.”
He told Pat’s Petition this week: “Whilst I do not agree with the petition you support, I entirely recognise that in a free society, you should be able to campaign on any issue.”
Maynard was planning to meet this week with members of We Are Spartacus, and said he would be happy to meet with Pat’s Petition at a later date.
Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOW petition, said he was “pretty angry” with Maynard’s comments. Friends who know of his involvement with WOW are now asking him if he really is an extremist, he said.
He said: “I am not happy that we are being hounded in a way that is not defensible. It has gone back to the language of the playground.”
He said that Maynard should be “held to account” for his comments.
Disabled People Against Cuts, which believes it was one of the organisations Maynard was referring to, told the MP in an open letter that its members “only ever use peaceful methods of protest, to call for what we see as fair and decent treatment for sick and disabled people”.
Black Triangle, an organisation of disabled people fighting cuts to disability benefits and services, which has been at the centre of many direct action protests, thanked Maynard for trying to withdraw his “extremists” comments, but called on him to apologise.
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said: “You associate extremists with bombings. What are extreme are the policies being carried out by this government, with 600,000 losing their [right to] disability living allowance, and half a million people relying on food banks.”
A member of Maynard’s Commons staff, who refused to give his name, said Maynard had received a request last week from Disability News Service to discuss the issue.
He said: “The message was passed on to Paul. I can only conclude that if you haven’t heard back from him that he is not keen to discuss anything further. I am happy to pass the message on again.”
18 July 2013