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Disability rights campaigners to field candidate in by-election

SCOTTISH disabled rights campaigners are using the Corby by-election in England to field a political candidate for the first time.

Labour leader Ed Miliband campaigns with candidate Andy Sawford in Corby, top, where Adam Lotun will become the first ever disability rights candidate
Labour leader Ed Miliband campaigns with candidate Andy Sawford in Corby, top, where Adam Lotun will become the first ever disability rights candidate

Disability activist Adam Lotun will run on a disabled rights ticket opposing welfare reform, supported by Montrose-based former police officer Calum McLean and Edinburgh-based Phil Lockwood.

The pair asked Lotun to stand, gave him his deposit and continue to raise funds for his campaign.

Corby is sometimes referred to as "Little Scotland" due to the large number of Scottish migrants who moved to the area to work.

Lockwood and McLean say that Corby is the start of a political battle that will see them fielding candidates at the General Election on a disabled rights agenda. Corby will be used as testing ground for election runs at both Holyrood and Westminster.

Lockwood said: "This is the way forward. We knew that the eyes of the country would be on this by-election. This was going to be a key political moment."

Corby is the former constituency of Tory MP Louise Mensch – who controversially stood down from parliament to spend more time with her family – and a town scarred by the human legacy of a toxic waste scandal. Since he was persuaded to stand, Lotun has also received the backing of Democracy 2015, Andreas Whittam Smith's campaign to renew the idea of politics as public service by fielding candidates from diverse backgrounds who have "life experience" and a history outside politics, and who will commit to serving for one term only.

Lotun says he is running on a "disability ticket" because "everything that is being done, particularly in terms of welfare reform, is hitting disabled people disproportionately".

For him, the drive behind standing for election was the fact that there is "no strong voice in parliament for disabled people - We don't seem to have the representation that should be there, and the really good voice that we did have, Labour MP Anne Begg [who represents Aberdeen South], was ill for some time."

One of the other organisers of the campaign, Calum McLean, compiles the controversial website Calum's List, an inventory of the names of 24 people he alleges committed suicide or died as a direct result of welfare reform. Due to ill-health he could not stand himself, so he and Lockwood began the process of looking for their ideal candidate.

Lockwood said: "We will be hoping to stand further people in future elections. To me it's the way forwards. If politicians think they are going to lose their jobs, they might be more inclined to change their minds."

Lotun says he is convinced the disabled of Britain are a political force to be reckoned with. "One thing I've always said," he stated, "is that when Iain Duncan Smith started making these unfair and wrong accusations about the disabled community and their abuse of benefits, he awoke a sleeping giant.

"It was filled with a terrible resolve. The Government riled so many disabled people from different walks of life. They are going to make themselves heard."

When it comes to swinging, size matters

ANALYSIS by John Curtice

Governments dislike by-elections. Even relatively popular administrations find voters desert them because of disappointment about some aspect of their record.

So it has been a blessed relief for both Coalition partners that until now neither of them has had to defend a seat won in the May 2010 general election.

However, the Conservatives' luck finally ran out during the summer when the high-profile backbench MP Louise Mensch resigned her Corby seat to spend more time with her family, now based in New York.

Captured from Labour in 2010, the seat is highly marginal. The opposition needs only a 2% swing to regain it. Even a popular government could be expected to suffer thanks to that kind of swing.

But, as it happens, the battle is being fought when voter confidence in the Conservatives has drained away. Since the spring, Labour has enjoyed average national poll leads of between eight and 10 points.

That is the equivalent of a 9% swing, well above what Labour needs to win Corby. A recent poll of the constituency commissioned by the former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft suggested the by-election swing could in fact be as much as 12%.

So it will not be whether Labour wins the seat on Thursday that will matter, but how well it does.

Anything less than the 9% swing in the national polls will be a disappointment. But anything much above the 12% swing in Lord Ashcroft's poll would begin to look like the kind of defeat suffered by previous governments that were heading for the General Election exit door.

Doubtless publicly Tory MPs will blame any large defeat on Ms Mensch's apparent disregard for the voters she was elected to serve – especially if the by-election swing is much larger than in the police and crime commissioner elections that are also being contested throughout England and Wales (bar London) on Thursday.

But in private the concern many already have that David Cameron is incapable of winning an overall majority in 2015 would be increased. And that would not make the Prime Minister's task of keeping his unruly backbenchers in order any easier.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

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