So just who are the most thoroughly unpleasant people out there on the internet? Well obviously with Piers Morgan and Sunny Hundal – and me, I suppose – the bar has been set pretty high.
But for pure, vicious, shrill malevolence, I have to say it’s pretty hard to beat disability rights activists. You can usually spot them on Twitter by the fact that they’ve got the name of a campaign group emblazoned across their photos, in that way everyone who is a complete and utter wanker seems to do on Twitter. (see also: Save the NHS; the red Labour rose, etc).
Anyway, this particular crowd’s speciality – and they really are very good at it – is using their victimhood as a deadly weapon: “We can be as utterly vile and intemperate and foul mouthed to whomsoever we want when we want. Because we’re disabled. Or we campaign on people who are disabled. And that makes us special, see.”
Last week, they claimed another scalp of which I’m sure they’re very proud. Philip Hensher wrote a piece in the Independent uncontentiously headlined “Some people on disability benefits are fit to work.”
Hensher cited some notorious recent examples – the woman who was discovered skydiving while claiming to be unable to walk; the Moulin Rouge dancer and keen badminton player who claimed more than £100,000 for a shoulder injury.
But there were, he noted, other problematic cases too. What about the nearly 1000 people on capacity benefit through obesity? What about the thousands off work with depression and anxiety? Surely, he suggested, rather than being kept on benefits in perpetuity these people should be examined sceptically and helped back to work as quickly as possible.
For this, Hensher was vilified by the disability rights bully mob. He received death threats. The comments on the online version of his piece grew so intemperate they had to be closed for “legal reasons.” Hensher drew so much hate on Twitter that he left for good.
When I learned about Hensher’s travails from his Facebook page – he was evidently very shaken and needed some comfort and a mate to have a drink with – I felt an odd mix of sorrow and joy. It wasn’t schadenfreude: I took no pleasure in his pain. Rather, it was that delicious sense of relief you get when, just for once, you see some other poor bugger taking the flak.
Now one option after a scare like that is to say: “No more” – have yourself declared LMF by the station medical officer and never have to fly another mission again. In the real life Bomber Command, this would have been a fate worse than death: you’d be stripped of your rank and spend the rest of the war in ignominy. In Hensher’s case however, it wouldn’t be nearly so bad. He could just stick to writing about some of other subjects he does very well – music, literature, Afghanistan, academe, gay life – and forever steer clear of anything more politically contentious.
But I do hope Hensher doesn’t choose this – sorry, but it is – coward’s way out. If he didn’t know it before his skirmish with the disability rights thugs, he certainly does now: we’re fighting a war here, a war on many fronts. And for a man of Hensher’s sensitivity and intelligence, it should be pretty plain what the consequences will be if the wrong side wins. At times as dark as this, shirking simply cannot be a conscionable option.
In the case of the disability rights issue, Hensher set out the problem very clearly. Currently, Britain spends 2.4 per cent of its GDP on disability benefits – more than in US, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. This – to use the other side’s favourite buzzword – is simply not sustainable. If ever Britain is to reduce its deficit, let alone pay off its debt, it has no option but drastically to reduce public spending. And so far – despite all the impressive noises made by George Osborne – this simply hasn’t happened. On the contrary, as Allister Heath recently noted, it actually rose last year. In 2011, according to the OECD’s figures, spending hit 48.6 per cent of GDP. In 2012, it hit 49 per cent.
I’m not suggesting for one second that a single one of the shrill, disability rights fascists who hounded Hensher is remotely aware of these figures. And I’m sure they wouldn’t care, even if they knew what the figures meant. If you’re in the mindset where you’re at once mired in self-pity and burning with your overwhelming sense of entitlement, you’re hardly going to care about the nation’s broader economic wellbeing are you?
Here’s what worries me: the longer we go on burying our heads in the sand and failing to rein in out-of-control public spending, the deeper and more intractable this great recession is going to get. As our economy shrinks – or, at best, stagnates – so there will be less and less money available from the ailing productive sector of the economy to pay for all those public sector handouts which our increasingly socialised society has come to see as its due.
This will have consequences for all of us, able-bodied and disabled alike. I want to live in a world where a soldier who has lost a leg in Afghanistan gets provided, gratis, with the very best prosthetics and rehabilitation, foever. I want to live in one where those who are truly incapacitated, either physically or mentally, can always rely on the safety net of state healthcare provision to see them through..
What I don’t think the disability rights mob realise – indeed, I know they don’t realise it, for they’d never carry on the way they do if they did – is just how perilously close we are to leaving that secure, socialised world which for the last fifty years we’ve taken for granted. When the government runs out of money – and it will: indeed it already has, which is why it has to borrow from countries less profligate than ours, such as the Chinese – there will be no more hand-outs for the fake disabled. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there’ll be no money properly to care for those genuinely in need. Is that really what their so-called champions want?