The “Deeply Saddened” Letters

It’s been a busy few weeks for the #LBBill. In wonderful crowdsourced fashion, supporters of the Bill wrote to their MPs asking them to give their backing to the Bill. Just on 2/3rds of the country’s MPs were contacted. Then came the ballot for the private members bills and once again, the Bill supporters rose to the occasion, contacting those chosen MPs and asking them to consider supporting the Bill through parliament.

Over the past few days, people have been posting the responses they’ve received. There is always an initial excitement that an MP has taken the time to reply. But that excitement has quickly turned into a heart sinking ache as we’ve realised that the Tory MPs are using a template letter to address their constituents request. And then you read the letter and realise what a horribly cynical, shabby piece of work it is.

There are three paragraphs to the letter:

  • Paragraph One starts with the line “I was deeply saddened to hear of Connor’s death”.
  • Paragraph two points out that it was “absolutely right” of Southern Health to offer their unreserved apology.
  • Paragraph three points the reader in the direction of Norman Lamb’s “No Rights Ignored” green paper & suggests that the content of the LBBill is already covered in Mr Lamb’s paper.

You get to the very end of the letter and it dawns on you that the MP hasn’t actually committed their support to the Bill or explicitly rejected their support. It offers nothing.

Let’s look at those three paragraphs and try and understand their meaning. When you spot that the letter is a standard template, the personal “deeply saddened” statement is too cloying for words. How can you be deeply saddened about something that you haven’t engaged with? Have you even read the letter you are signing? Have you read the Bill? So the purpose of the condolence must have another meaning. I might piss a few people off now but I think this model of response has been modelled by their leader. How many times have we seen Mr Cameron challenged over a disability issue. He goes very red and explodes with rage. He then points out to the challenger that having experienced his own son’s disability, he is deeply committed to disability issues. He is affronted by the challenge as it impacts on his own deep loss. Sad to say but it’s a phenomenal tactic. The challenger is immediately silenced – too embarrassed to pursue their point. The MP’s letter has a similar feel to it. By declaring a personal emotional feeling in the first sentence, the MP has taken charge of the emotional game. You are drawn into his/her sincerity and emotional expression. By the time you realise that the sentiment is totally insincere it is too late – you’re on to paragraph two and the next sucker punch.

Why does the writer feel they have to point out that Southern Health were “absolutely right” in their apology”? What has that got to do with anything that the MP was being asked to do? It is important to the history of the Bill but has little relevance to the content. Doesn’t the MP realise that given Southern Health’s behaviour since 4th July 2013, their apology is completely meaningless? So, the statement must have another purpose. I think it’s interesting that within that message the MP is positioning him/herself with the Official Body. The supporters of LBBill are the outsiders. Southern Health, like the MP, are on the inside. It’s also a reminder, as if it is needed, where the power lies in all this. Their is something in those two words that reveals the MP is aligning themselves with Southern Health and consequently waters down what happened to Connor. It also, starts to show paragraph one up for what it is.

Finally, there is the reference to Norman Lamb’s green paper. Has anyone heard anything about the progress of the paper since the election? We’ve heard about cuts to disability support, the closure of the ILF, the scrapping of the Human Rights Act but nothing about the development of Mr Lamb’s proposals. At best, the paper is in the long grass – at worst, it’s in the shredder. Which if the LBBill throws its cap into the Lamb green paper ring, is precisely where it will find itself as well.

For me, a standard template letter is the worst response. Lots of people (including me after writing to Boris) haven’t had any response at all. A few people have had a personal response declining to give their support. Fair enough. The non Tory MPs who have responded have given a more personal reply, regardless of their support for the Bill or not. I think I’d prefer a “This proposal is the biggest heap of shite I’ve ever read” response to the letter the Tory MPs are sending out.

The letter was obviously drafted by an intern or someone in the Department of Health. Was the intention to try and kill the LBBill stone dead? Why is it so threatening? I can see that the LBBill doesn’t fit into current political narratives. Perhaps that’s the problem. The letter is a party line – the LBBill isn’t. We see so much of that in political discourse that perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the LBBill falls foul of the same political modus operandi.

Now that is deeply saddening.

9 thoughts on “The “Deeply Saddened” Letters”

  1. There’s a few things which I’m uncomfortable with.

    First, the consultation period for the ‘No Rights Ignored’ has just closed. People have responded to it including People First England which needs reading and analysing before seeing whether a White Paper can be produced as currently envisaged (probably unlikely given the criticism it is receiving). To use it to criticise the template letter is inappropriate given where it is currently in its progression. I’m not expecting any department reaction before the autumn. The idea that its in the shredder is jumping ahead somewhat.

    Second, this template wasn’t drafted by an intern but someone with PR skills. Its a bit incongruous to claim that an intern would be asked to write something to kill a campaign. As Chris Hutton said on twitter, it has generated an official response. That is a sign of success.

    Third, I fundamentally disagree with your claim that the LBBill doesn’t fit political narratives. I would suggest that the opposite is true that it fits in with the direction of travel expressed in political language such as choice, rights of individuals and participating in society. What is uncomfortable about the LBBill is that it seeks to turn language into reality with all the associated risks involved. That’s a very different problem yet it is an opportunity.

    Fourth, I’m generally irritated by the defeatism of tone so let me set out an alternative view here.

    What this template does is give a way in for the LBBill by two aspects of the template. First, it recognises that there is a problem so allowing further dialogue to occur. The second is that it references the Norman Lamb green paper as a way of solving the problem. That is only a credible position to take if the green paper becomes a white paper to be placed before Parliament.

    So the MP needs to be held to their letter here. If the LBBill fails to be adopted this year as a backbench bill then the campaign needs to turn towards seeing a white paper produced by lobbying their MPs. This is just the start of the campaign really. That lobbying should insist that the LBBill draft is the basis for the white paper. Certainly that’s what I’ll be writing via my MP to the Department of Health to say (your MP can be used as a conduit here to direct questions to departments).

    Once there is some sort of white paper produced then it can be improved by getting amendments placed that reflect the aspirations of the LBBill (more lobbying of MPs and Lords required here as well). Ideally all of the LBBill will be reflected in that white paper but every clause will need to be won line by line.

    Getting political change isn’t easy and it is a slow process. This campaign needs energy and it needs to develop political friends to help carry it forward. Your MPs need to be involved in a conversation over a sustained period of time. Not through confrontation but by holding them to their words. Be in their ear and be a pain in the backside. Go visit them at their surgeries and talk through what LBBill means for you.

    There has been a lot of work done but we have only begun.

    1. John I was promptly in receipt of the template reply, I had no expectation my MP would remember our family or our surgery visit but I did expect the response to be solely his thoughts about the bill.The letter had nothing of his personal delivery about it and I felt reading it an hypnotic overtone of ‘ trust in me’. I was taken aback to have it confirmed it was a template. I personally do not accept the post mortem should have been mentioned at all. As for choice,rights of individuals and participating in society, the reality is so so different. Assessed critical need and 24/7 1:1 support goes under funded in this LA. I do appreciate the hard won rights for equality and the gains made in the past. I believe things are going backwards with the closure of the ILF and schemes such as HOLD. I can think of two former local MPs of the same political persuasion who would never had signed that template.

  2. Good points John. I also want to say that the post is my personal view and I’m not speaking for any of the other #LBBillers. I agree with all your points about the way forward and know its going to be a very long haul. The only point I really disagree on is your assertion that the Bill fits current political narratives. For me, its the opposite because it uses language to inspire action, not to block action.

  3. I endorse everything you say Mark. What a load of miscreants these MP.s are. Too busy campaigning for their 10 per cent rise in salary to bother about the real people.

    I did not even get a reply from my e-mail to my MP. Stand up and bow your head in shame Bob Neill MP.

    I always had the feeling that Cameron was quite a decent chap and that he understood exactly what it is like to care for someone with a disability. He knew the strain it put on the rest of the family. He has felt the pain of watching a loved one suffer. The fact that his wealth helped to cushion any hardships bringing up a disabled family member , it still does not stop the emotional heartache. Yet he still has not got the courage to stand up and be counted when it comes to making life better for all the people who are disabled like his son. He has been there, he should be leading the fight for better care and autonomy for disabled people, not hampering it.

  4. I agree with Pauline. David Cameron and his wife’s experience of caring for a disabled child was utterly different from that of almost all parents. They had and have day nannies, night nannies, admin staff, cleaners, PAs and millions behind them, to hire lawyers etc or pay for whatever services were needed. Mrs Cameron was able to keep going with her socialite lifestyle and high end job. Mr Cameron was able to do what he does. Neither parent needed to ever be alone with their disabled son or to spend one minute in his are if they didn’t choose to
    . They are of very rich who are as busy as they want to be rather than they have to be.
    I often wonder if having that experience blinds one to what the general experience is. In the same way that if you have cleaners and decorators, you assume that all houses are that clean and look that good by themselves, you can also have a rather Marie Antoinetteish view of childcare and disability.i have read pieces by two famous and well heeled women on the experience of having a child with Downs syndrome and neither says that she is lucky to afford such a high standard of wraparound care. Difficulties in care are not mentioned. The interviewer never asks: “By the way, where IS your disabled child right now ?”
    Possibly they really think this is how it is for others. (Rather like Nigella Lawson assuming we can all get in our truffles and hand pressed olive oil )
    So I do not question Mr Camerons’s love for his poor son but I do think he is, perhaps wilfully, blind to the reality of caring for a person with disabilities.

  5. Mark I agree with all that you say in your blog here and with your comment. I have similar agreements and issues with John’s.

    You as many of us have, have deep experience of the many ways Public Care organisations can avoid. You like so many of us have battled with the ever changing word speak that expresses positive values and behaviour that is used only to fog communication, and at best changes nothing. At at worst it obscures very very bad things.

    However: many of us have who battled for years and have had small wins, usually in the form of a tiny bit more support, a has ‘got whiskers on’ limp tap on wrist by Ombudsmen to the LA / NHS …. A thumbed nose to the family from the offender… and a marked card. But these small wins are moving things cog by reluctant rusty cog for the better?

    These bland copy act letters from to MP’s are similar to the many we INDIVIDUALS have received at the start of our own desperately long and frustrated battles for justice. But we have those letters?

    The LB bill is at the start of a new SHARED campaign for common sense rights and justice for all vulnerable people..

    We must communicate and communicate – and challenge to disarm the armour and the weapons that have defeated justice, and us till we went away, done to death….. failed.

    GOOD NEWS. The LB Bill IS in it’s earliest days.

    We are not powerless individuals battling on – on our own any more – we are not alone any more. .

    This is what will make the difference, we will together………………………..overcome.

  6. Has Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) been contacted? She’s a Tory but I’ll be happy to give her a go if someone can give me tips on how to write a letter to an MP. Some info on Norman Lamb’s Bill and a full summary of the LB Bill would be appreciated too. I admit I haven’t read it all but I agree with what I have read.

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