Just over two weeks ago, I announced on Facebook I was throwing my hat into the ring to be Vauxhall’s next Labour Party parliamentary candidate.
I’ve hugely valued my post injury journalism career, and I’m hugely lucky to have been able to pursue it at all. But if I’m honest, ever since the accident I’ve craved a role that felt as meaningful as my two years overseas as a foreign correspondent.
To do that job was a huge privilege, in every meaning of the word. It gave me the chance to tell people’s stories from first southern Africa then Sri Lanka, often victims of conflict, poverty, prejudice and more. Even the simple act of doing that, I found, could often make a difference.
As Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil Tigers plunged back to war, they didn’t care who got hurt – but they did sometimes think about international opinion. A story on extrajudicial killings in one province made them stop, at least temporarily. Groups of displaced people I covered stopped being ignored, and sometimes were allowed to get to where they wanted.
In September 2006, I embarked on one more reporting trip to cover the abduction of child soldiers by a government linked group. I awoke in the wreckage of my vehicle, paralysed for life.
No one would want to be disabled, particularly to such a degree as me, but it could happen to anyone at any time. By some measures up to a fifth of the population identify as having a disability, although that can mean many different things. In Parliament, it is only five MPs – less than one percent of the total.
Even with resources, being this dependent can leave you struggling for the most basic sense of humanity and agency. That’s even more true if you are forced to fight for what you need to survive, as I and many others have often had to do.
Many of those resources are no longer there. Had I not won a major financial compensation package from my employer – thanks to my union solicitor – I would have been put in a nursing home in 2015 as the cuts began to bite.
There’s another reason I would like the opportunity to do this. When I was first injured, I found it almost impossible to find anyone as physically disabled having the kind of life and career I wanted. A single MP or other figures in public life would have been a game changer. For others it still could be. It feels wrong not to try.
Reuters – still my employers through thick and thin – takes its freedom from bias seriously, and usually has little tolerance for political party membership or overt political activity. That changed for me in 2016 when I became a columnist, and was permitted outside interests.
Shortly after my social worker told me I should face a nursing home, the British Army asked me to rejoin as a part-time reservist advisor on media and information operations. After years of trying to find outlets for my skills, energies and drives, it finally made me feel needed, that my ongoing existence truly benefited the country that had paid for it.
Like campaigning for the Labour Party, it has made me feel more human.
We have many local hopefuls in Vauxhall, all of them dedicated to the party and who would make terrific MPs. As a seat previously held by a woman MP, the selection may ultimately be decided by an All Women Shortlist. I would be sorry to lose the right to stand and I do not believe by doing so I would be disenfranchising our very strong selection of likely women candidates or their supporters. I entirely respect and hear the arguments and feelings of those that disagree.
There is clear evidence centuries of female under-representation in politics and other areas has harmed not just women but wider society. I believe the same is true for other underrepresented groups. I think we should also think before banning black and minority ethnic men from standing – a group that in Vauxhall faces particular marginalisation and a knife crime epidemic. I have some experience of isolation and hopelessness, and they are very easy to inadvertently exacerbate.
I will also keep looking to run elsewhere – although traveling to multiple constituencies is more challenging for me than most. Whoever wins the nomination here, it will be no easy run either.
As well as growing crime, Vauxhall’s poorest face a perfect storm of spending cuts, job insecurity and housing issues. The Liberal Democrats and Greens are rising, and to beat them we need a decisive line on Brexit and a Green New Deal that also fixes a crumbling social contract.
The last Labour government wasn’t perfect, but without it millions including me would have less opportunity. To tackle the growing problems of this age, though, I believe we also desperately need the energy and new thinking brought by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns and the 2017 manifesto. We must tackle anti- Semitism and all other prejudice and bullying, avoid endless factional fighting and get our heads into the game.
These are the battles I want to have, to help make Britain a radically inclusive place where everyone can play their part. I believe that kind of society is stronger, more prosperous and better able to protect both its members and itself.
The alternative is a world where everyone knows they could be felled by ill health, unemployment, homelessness or worse. As we are seeing, that’s a place in which division, hopelessness and conflict thrive.
I have worked hard to avoid being defined by my disability, and will continue to do so. But if by doing this I can show what someone like me can do, it will have been worthwhile.
Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs commentator and a British Army reservist. He is a fundraising officer for Vauxhall Constituency Labour Party and Campaigns Officer for Oval Ward.
Covering the Battle of Muttur, eastern Sri Lanka, August 2006. I was paralysed almost exactly a month later [Reuters/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi]