Friday, 20 June 2014

Access to Elected Office Fund

Doing the election expense returns for the recent local elections I came across a new initiative; it is called the Access to Elected office Fund.  In a nutshell, it is a fund, supported by the taxpayers, to encourage and enable disabled people to seek elected office by providing financial support to enable them to compete on a level playing field. 

Regular readers will know I am passionate about open democracy and encouraging mass participation, so in theory I should be wholly supportive of this initiative. And on balance, I am.

Here is my dilemma. 

The chap who brought the existence of this fund to my attention has been a Conservative candidate several times. He is an outstanding candidate who has failed to win because he is determined to stand in his home ward, which happens to be one of the LDs safest wards in Kent. Each time he has stood he has fought a good campaign, got himself around the ward and achieved a result in line with the borough averages. However, up to this year when this new fund was introduced, he managed it without the assistance of public funding. Therefore, in his case, the lack of funding has not prevented him standing or campaigning as he has done so already. 

I have many friends who are registered disabled but don't allow their disability stop them campaigning. One very good friend was born with no legs and one arm, and he has led the most amazing life with the use of prosthetic limbs.  He swims, hikes, canvasses and delivers leaflets as efficiently at the next person - and I have yet to meet anyone out on the campaign trail with him who guesses the level of his disability. Most assume he "walks with a limp". If this man was offered public funding he would probably be quite offended, and would likely suggest it was used to alleviate poverty or cut the deficit.   

I know there are exceptions which prove or disprove any rule, but I cannot help but think this could be a thin end of a wedge.  I have never seen a government scheme, however well intentioned, which does not turn itself into an industry. I fear it won't be long before someone objects to being declined funding and goes to appeal, which will lead to a new mini industry of appeals committees, lawyers and Ombudsmen. Will someone partially sighted use Human Rights' Laws to achieve judicial review to secure pro-rata funding, with a new hierarchy of medical specialists adjudicating on the process. You might well laugh, but did anyone ever think the same laws would be used to prevent Britain deporting Abdul Hamza?   

So yes, on balance, this is a good thing. But I suspect in 5 / 10 years time it will be a beast - handing out discretionary payments in quantities never envisaged when the well meant and perfectly reasonable legislation was first enacted. 

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