Is Democracy Dead And Gone?
It was cold and dark as I stood on the misty platform of our request stop train station here in Clunderwen, west Wales early on the morning of November 12, 2013.
I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Was I wasting my time going up to London to take part in a Lobby and demonstration in Westminster?
What would the day achieve anyway? I'd already done the maths: it was unlikely that this Opposition Day Debate and vote on repealing the Bedroom Tax could be won by the Labour Party who had called it.
So why was I going?
Well, first, I had known about this debate for around two weeks before it was formally announced, and had been [probably], the first person to tweet about it – to an often disbelieving world! [Yes, I hear a trumpet blowing too!]
Second, thanks to Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror, my family situation had, during the previous week, been featured in the paper to help highlight this invidious and loathsome piece of legislation. And the Mirror had offered to pay for my ticket, for which I was very grateful, because there was no way I could have afforded it otherwise.
Third, I wanted to meet other anti-Bedroom Tax campaigners, many of whom, like myself, are disabled and, or, carers. They do a fantastic job in highlighting the unfairness of this legislation at every opportunity. [You know who you are]
My final reason for going was to watch the debate in Parliament and see for myself how well and reasoned the arguments on both sides would be made. At the end of the day, I do enjoy a good debate!
I was met at Paddington by our solicitor, Mike Spencer from the Child Poverty Action Group [CPAG], who was coming to Westminster with me. This was the first time we had met each other after many, many phone conversations and emails. So that was good.
It didn't take long to get to our destination and in through the seriously tight security zone. Questions were raised about the possible contents of my oxygen tank, but I was finally allowed to take it through with me.
We were then mistakenly directed to the wrong room, a trek through the maze of Westminster and back again which tired me. I was glad to get into the meeting and listen to the discussions taking place, although my train's arrival time and our misdirection meant that we missed hearing what MPs Rachael Reeves and Kate Green had to say.
A few people knew who I was and introduced themselves, but feeble excuse as it is, I was so full of painkillers and quite out of breath that I barely managed to recognise their names, despite having shared 'tweets'. Because of this, I won't mention anyone by name in case I inadvertently forget you and I am sorry about that. But I was very happy to be amongst so many like-minded people with different backgrounds and views, yet with one united purpose: to fight the Bedroom Tax. Thank you all. You have my greatest respect.
I don't know where everyone in that packed room came from, but I know many had made journeys as long or longer, as hard or harder than mine from all over the country just to be there. It was truly inspirational.
After the meeting closed, it was good to chat for a while with fellow protesters before we went outside to demonstrate and tell the public why we were there. It felt good to be part of a group at last, after being something of a lone protester back home in Pembrokeshire since April this year. And it was good to see a Cornish flag there too!
There was a little bomb alert then in the Parliament building, which meant we were moved on by the police. But all ended well and we continued demonstrating and speaking a little further down the road where we were filmed and photographed.
Then it was time for the debate, so we headed back through the security area into the Parliament buildings and on towards the public gallery.
Rachael Reeves was speaking as we took our seats, surrounded by many fellow protesters. Immediately, I was struck by the noise.
How was she managing to be heard? How could anyone be actually listening to her? It was disconcerting to say the least. Perhaps they would calm down soon?
This however was the House of Commons.
I had always believed that here, in this place of government, where our elected representatives meet and policies which affect all our lives are made, they would have the highest standards of debate.
The reality shocked me to my core. I knew I wasn't alone in feeling like this as I looked around the public gallery. It was absolutely shameful to witness. I was horrified.
I soon had to force myself not to leave in absolute disgust. I was close to tears witnessing the events unfolding down there below me on the floor of the 'House'.
Put quite simply and, I must emphasise, non-politically, the behaviour of the few Members of Parliament on the Government benches was simply disgraceful.
Their behaviour was perhaps the biggest insult to every disabled person, to every carer, to every chronically sick person, and yes, insulting to every 'hard working family' in the country, many of whom are also affected by Bedroom Tax.
There was NO debate: there was no dialogue on the Bedroom Tax on Tuesday 12 November 2013. At least not in the House of Commons.
It saddens me so much and I wish it were not true, but it is.
I repeat: there was no debate.
What there was instead showed me the reality, the truth of the political process that we have here in the United Kingdom. Serious reform of some sort is needed if there is to be any hope for the future of all citizens of our country and especially perhaps, our children.
Does a person who sits and openly laughs at another Member of the 'House' telling of a constituent's suicide and comforting the bereaved son really deserve their seat in the Commons?
I believe not. Not under any circumstances.
It is honestly very difficult indeed for me to write this even now, two days later.
I am certainly no emotional 'softie'. I have been called ruthless many times in my life, possibly deservedly so, but I was very nearly in tears witnessing what I had travelled so far to see.
Time after time, Labour politicians told heartbreaking stories of how some of their most vulnerable constituents had been so needlessly affected by the Bedroom Tax.
On virtually every occasion, there was derision from the Coalition MPs. When they spoke, they constantly refused to acknowledge what they were hearing, instead arrogantly and disrespectfully quoting party rhetoric with little regard for context.
'It is all Labour's fault.'
There was no acceptance of Labour Members' attempts to bring reasoned argument to this alleged debate.
Everything that the 'Opposition' Members said was ignored or simply shouted down.
This is the level that our once respected, often emulated political process has sunk to. It is extremely worrying.
Let nobody, nobody at all, of any political persuasion be in any doubt whatsoever: the current Government do not care one iota for you. Not in the slightest.
That was evident on Tuesday.
If they can laugh at suicide. If they can ignore disabled people's problems. If they can shout down evidence of broken families, of children being made homeless, of increasing poverty, then they are unable to accept responsibility for their own actions in implementing policies that harm.
Policies that harm everyone. Policies that divide our society. Policies that kill. Policies like the Bedroom Tax. Policies like Welfare Reform. Policies such as privatising the NHS. Policies that affect every one of us.
Yes, we are all in this together. We are all at the mercy of these monstrous egos.
After witnessing this on Tuesday, I can promise one thing, one truth: you, whoever you are, you are not safe. Nobody is safe from these bullying, arrogant, self-serving excuses for politicians.
They do not care for the British people at all.
Amongst all this hatred, derision and scorn, I found myself looking again and again at a lone figure sitting calmly on the Opposition front bench.
This was Kate Green, Labour's spokesperson for disability. She knew I was probably watching. Someone had told her I was there.
I knew she would mention how my family and others had been affected by Bedroom Tax in her closing speech.
I am glad I had to leave for my train home before Kate's speech because I don't know if I could have coped with hearing my own story being heckled and denigrated in the same vile way so many others had been during the four hours I had sat there.
My journey home was long. I ran out of oxygen. My mind was trying to deal with the events I had seen that day. I got home exhausted, both physically and mentally. I am still very tired.
Yesterday, Kate Green emailed me. Amongst other things, she apologised for what I had witnessed.
That was the point when I finally broke down and cried.
Kate Green knew exactly what myself and the others had experienced in that gallery. She cared. I think she knew the effect it would have on me and those others of us who were there. For that, I thank her on behalf of all of us.
As a nation, as a society, we must somehow rid ourselves of the divisions that have been intentionally created and fostered by this Government. We must look at each other with fresh eyes.
It isn't Labour's fault.
We disabled are not causing any harm. We are not draining the economy. Our carers are saving the government billions of pounds each year. Yet we are blamed by them for costing too much in benefits.
The people I saw behaving like overgrown schoolchildren on Tuesday are afraid of us. They are afraid of all of us: able and disabled alike. They need to keep us divided and fighting between ourselves. With a united society, they have no power.
We must not behave like them.
They owe us an apology.
There is something you can do to help right now: Please sign the WOWpetition.