Robert Jenrick: "I don’t need to have a disabled daughter to know what it’s like"
There's a by-election this week in Newark, the seat vacated by the disgraced Conservative MP Patrick Mercer who stood down after being found guilty of breaching parliamentary lobbying rules - that is, using using his position for paid advocacy (ie 'cash for questions'). Newark has been considered a relatively safe Conservative seat over recent years (majority 16,000), though Labour took it marginally in 1997 (majority 3,000).
The battle is rather important for the Tories: they haven't actually won a by-election while in Government since 1989, when William Hague was elected MP for Richmond, Yorkshire. It would come as something of a personal boost to David Cameron if he were able to end that 25-year drought. Robert Jenrick has been chosen to fight on behalf of the Conservatives, and he is studiously on CCHQ-message 24/7. Seriously, it is impossible to discern any individuality or authenticity from his utterances: he believes what he is told to believe. He is a sky-blue modernising Cameron clone.
And the battle is also rather important for Ukip: they have never won a by-election in their entire history, though they came quite close when Diane James beat the Tories into third place and came within a whisker of taking Eastleigh from the Liberal Democrats in 2013. Nigel Farage desperately needs Westminster representation - just one MP will suffice - if his bandwagon is going to carry on rolling. Ukip have chosen the redoubtable defector and former Tory Roger Helmer MEP as their candidate, and he is studiously not on anyone's message. His beliefs on same-sex marriage, homophobia, immigration and the Roman Catholic Church are individual, authentic and gloriously un-PC.
And so we learn that Mr Jenrick thinks David Cameron is doing a great job, that the Conservatives are God's gift to politics and that CCHQ is the bees-knees.
And we learn from Mr Helmer that Ukip is on a roll, only they can rescue us from the morass into which we are sinking, and that Nigel Farage is the way, the truth and the life.
But instead of focusing on the issues, they seem intent on making this by-election something of a class war, which is rather odd given their beliefs, backgrounds and respective earnings.
Robert Jenrick is a privileged Cameron clone and multi-millionaire, with (according to the Daily Mail), a "£5 million property portfolio and £500,000-a-year joint earnings". And Mr Helmer hasn't done too badly either as a Tory/Ukip MEP for the past 15 years, having taken home around £250,000 per annum in salary and 'allowances'.
Both live very comfortably and are manifestly well-heeled: some might say typical Tories. So it oughtn't to matter how many millions they have or how luxurious their pads are in London, Paris, Brussels and Vegas.
It certainly doesn't matter to His Grace: both the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate may be engaged or disengaged with the rest of creation; either may be a good or bad servant of God or a force for good or ill in the world.
But there is one line of the Mail interview with Robert Jenrick which caught His Grace's eye. When asked what he could possibly know of life on the breadline, he apparently responded: "I don’t need to have a disabled daughter to know what it’s like."
Now, with a prime minister who had a disabled son and who knows very well what it's like; and in a nation of around 11 million who live with some kind of disability, this appears to be a particularly crass comment. Though, to be generous, it is at least spontaneous and authentic.
His Grace is of the view that one does not need to be disabled in order to represent the interests of the disabled in Parliament, any more than one needs to be female, gay, lesbian, brown-skinned, black-skinned, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu in order to advocate for any of these demographic groups in the democratic parliamentary process. Any compassionate human being of engaged reason has the capacity to watch, listen, understand and empathise.
But surely one does have to have a disabled daughter to know what it's like. Surely one has to have experienced the emotional traumas, the desperation, resentment, frustration and the months and years of medical treatment in order to know what it's like. Disability discrimination abounds: it is enshrined in the pages of the Old Testament in the rules for Levitical priesthood:
Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.The supremacy of the able-bodied may be observed in all times and across all cultures: their chronic separation, stigma and suppression on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder has been a cause of intolerable, unimaginable suffering. The able-bodied cannot know their daily struggles or gauge how to verify their consciousness or oppression. Nor can they know anything of the father of the disabled child, and his propensity for illusion, folly, escape or destructive behaviour. We cannot identify the good with the bent of our own natures: our empathy may be natural, but generosity and compassion run against the grain of our depraved wills. The fact that we have to impose 'knowing' on our unwilling natures suggests that we cannot know by self-imposition what others know by natural or fatal infliction.
For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God (Lev 21:17-21).
The highest good for humans - including politicians - is to love and take joy in the whole course of the world. It is also to know oneself and to speak the truth in love. The best MPs are those who can love those around them constantly, consistently and steadily, undiverted by their own pain and disappointments or their own partial interests. This is true public service, and it carries within itself the greatest intrinsic satisfaction - physical, material, psychological, mental and spiritual healing.
The people of Newark have an important choice to make this week, and their election could well seal the outcome of the next general election. For God's sake, choose wisely.