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Audio: Conservative MP Paul Maynard

by Ouch Team

13th April 2011

Listen to our interview with Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who recently revealed in The Times newspaper that his cerebral palsy was mocked in the House of Commons by opposition MPs.

Benefit change proposals and why he got into politics are also on the agenda.

Paul spoke to Liz Carr and Adam Pearson.
Conservative MP Paul Maynard

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LIZ We have Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys. Thank you for coming in Paul.
PAUL My pleasure.
LIZ Now you've come straight from the Commons so what have you been up to day?
PAUL Oh we've had meetings today, and I've had a lunch with the Amusement Parks Association for Great Britain, obviously we have the pleasure beach in Blackpool which is a big attraction, The Big One and all that, so I've been meeting with them, chatting with them about tourism policy.
LIZ I remember The Big One, this is the biggest is it in the UK the biggest rollercoaster.
PAUL In the UK it is yes and the fastest and the highest and the everything else.
LIZ You're promoting that well.
PAUL Well that's part of the job of being the MP is to get people to come to Blackpool.
LIZ But have you been on it?
PAUL I haven't no.
LIZ Oh no!
PAUL I'm not a big rollercoaster person I have to say.
LIZ Okay.
PAUL Dickie tummy.
LIZ Great to have you in here. Now as an MP, a disabled MP, but do you think you're the first MP in history to have cerebral palsy?
PAUL I thought I was at first, but then it turned out I wasn't, I was the second. A chap called Terry Dicks who was an MP in the early '80s had mild cerebral palsy as well so I was the second not the first, which is fine.
LIZ Were you disappointed a bit?
PAUL Not really no, no. I was still the first to have gone to a special school and then gone on to Parliament, so I've got one first left but it's not really it's whether you're first or second it's what you do when you get there that matters.
ADAM Good point. And so what was it that first led you into the arena of politics?
PAUL Oh I wish I knew I might have done something about it you never know. I think it was growing up and when I was at the special school and aged four, Margaret Thatcher paid a visit to the school. She was so impressed by what she saw she invited us all down to No. 10 Downing Street, the whole school on the coach, so I got to go in No. 10. And obviously, you know, I didn't understand really what was going on but I knew it was an important place. So as I was growing up I obviously, you know, every time I saw Mrs Thatcher, "Oh she was the one I went to see" so it was just a germ of an interest maybe and it all grew out of that I think.
LIZ So was it her or was it No. 10 that you think inspired you?
PAUL Probably her as much as anything because I was 14 or 15 just at the age when you start to become aware of the world around you, and she was visiting Eastern Europe, Poland and so on who were just emerging from communism. And there was like quite a powerful link for me between the freedom I wanted everybody to have to achieve what they wanted to achieve and the freedom the people of Poland were gaining and I could see her being mobbed on the streets of Walsall and how pleased people were to see her there. So maybe that established a connection in my mind I don't know. So, a bit of both.
LIZ And at that point was it Labour or Conservative were you aware of the differences at that point?
PAUL Oh yes definitely. I lived in a village in Cheshire called Weaverham and it was all very political, and at the time the Labour party were quite strong on the local councils, and one of my neighbours was a Conservative candidate and she got me out canvassing for them and knocking on the doors. And it petrified me but I did it anyway because in the end you got to stand up for what you believe in, so that's largely how I got into the practical side of it, as it were.
LIZ Now people might think, and I believe people have said this to you as well, that Labour will be the natural party for a disabled person.
PAUL Some have said that, some have expressed surprise, but to me that isn't the case. I don't think there is any natural party for any group of people. There will be disabled people believe that socialism holds the answer to everything. There will be people who are even more radical free marketeers than I am. But what matters I think if you are disabled you have your own views, there shouldn't be a group view just because you are disabled. And I think it would be awful if we all had the same opinion anyway, that wouldn't be a democracy that would be a one party state. We'd be even worse off, it's good to have different views.
LIZ Now you hit the headlines earlier this year about some of your opposition, some of the members of Parliament maybe jeering you when you were speaking. And it sounds, having read about you, that in your run up to becoming an MP you face a lot of negative attitudes, a lot of discrimination like what kind of things?
PAUL I think often it's a matter of ignorance that if people don't know what disability you have, or what condition you have, they might not always understand what's going on. And the BBC North West did a focus on my constituency in the last week but one of the campaign I had to do TV interviews and so on. And some people listening to me, because they don't know me, thought I was drunk on screen which of course isn't the case. I'm allergic to alcohol anyway because it triggers my epilepsy so I don't drink. But because they didn't know that I had cerebral palsy, that I'd had the umbilical cord round my neck as a baby and that I had my voice box damaged, they made an assumption about me, and on the back of that assumption they made a further assumption about my suitability or not to be a member of Parliament. So I think it's ignorance as much as anything rather than prejudice perhaps.
LIZ But to be jeered in the Commons I know that a lot of disabled people came to your side and supported you and were quite upset about that of that happening in that forum.
PAUL Well I mean I've totally drawn a line under what happened in the House of Commons. It's an important point to make that the House of Commons is a debating chamber not an echo chamber. And it's quite right that people who disagree with me intervene on me and make their point and we have an argument and a disagreement in a respectful way - that's the way democracy works. But sometimes barracking can go beyond that, and in this case I thought that was what had happened. But I haven't had any problems since and I think people now understand much better the condition I have.
LIZ Do you think that's prepared you more, you know, any kind of amount of being jeered or people talking for any MP has that made you stronger, have the taunts and that kind of things has it made you a better politician?
PAUL I think as you grow up you learn to deal with these things and certainly even before I was a candidate canvassing is quite a stressful experience for anyone because you're walking up to a front door and you've no idea what's going to be behind it, or what reception you're going to get. So you do learn to develop a bit of a thick hide and you need that in politics. But that's because people might not agree with you. If you want to keep everybody happy all of the time don't go into politics.
ADAM And are you certain you were jeered back in the House of Commons because of your disability?
PAUL Well, as I say, I have drawn a line under that. So what I said in the interview in The Times stands but that was my belief at the time yes.
LIZ You're on record as saying that you think that there should be cuts to disability living allowance, but there's so many cuts happening and certainly disabled people are bothered by that. Are you entirely happy with all of the benefit reform proposals?
PAUL Well they're certainly very complex I would agree with you there. But I wouldn't just distinguish them as being cuts to DLA. I think the emphasis I would put is that we need to make sure that the people who most need support are getting that support. So it's not about having a random one in five suddenly being taken out of DLA, it's making sure that people are getting the right support to live as full a life as possible. And that will mean that some people may need to be reassessed you haven't been assessed for many years. But equally it's about making sure that we get decisions right the first time round. The most frequent problem I find in my surgery is that people are trying to appeal against incorrect decisions that then get found in their favour just because there's some mistake in the paperwork. And that causes far more stress than anything else. So we really need to make sure the system works better if people get assessed and get the appropriate help at the appropriate time. It isn't just a blunt instrument in my view.
LIZ So if disabled people are concerned about the next... as everyone is about the forthcoming cuts what can you say to help, to alleviate that to stop them worrying?
PAUL Well they need to make sure that they bring instances of where the system hasn't worked well to the attention to both members of Parliament and ministers because one of our key points is that there will never be an end point to reform of the benefit system, we can always improve it, we can always make it better. One example is that we're going to make sure that anyone conducting the work capability assessment, for example, is going to have a mental health champion in the building at any moment in time where they can go for assistance and advice. And that's never been done before. And I always felt that mental health, people with mental illnesses got a particularly raw deal out of the assessment system as it stood at the time. So we're constantly fine tuning what we're trying to do. Will it be perfect? Well I hope it will be one day but we're going to have to keep refining it time and time again in my view.
LIZ If they offered you Minister for Disability, Minister for Disabled People a cabinet position, would you take it or would you think I'm more than this or would you go actually it's the chance to make a lot of change. Would you say yes to it?
PAUL Oh dear. Well I've only been there since last May so I think it's a bit...
LIZ You've got to have ambitions Paul.
PAUL ... I think it's a bit premature for me to start deciding which job I want in the government. My main concern is I was elected by 67,000 odd people in Blackpool North and Cleveleys making sure they get a full time service out of their MP as a full time job for me to do before I start worrying about anything else that ever might come down the road in my direction. So I'll stick to doing what I'm doing for the moment.
LIZ But you probably wouldn't say no to it would you?
PAUL It's not been...
LIZ I know.
PAUL Politicians should never start discussing hypotheticals it's the road to ruin.
LIZ That's all you do as politicians.
PAUL It's a road to ruin.
LIZ We were talking about the cuts a minute ago and I was just wondering do you think that disabled people generally are proactive enough with their concerns and in campaigning and that or do you think they need to be more so?
PAUL I think there is a very active campaign going on but it's often in the conditional tense. I always think campaigning in the conditional tense isn't always the best idea because it's what might happen, it's what could happen, it's never what will happen. And I always worry, just take the example of DLA, for instance, what our recommendations there were quite a specific change to the eligibility criteria for those in residential care. But the way that some people campaigned about it there was a lot of misinformation and confusion over what was being proposed and a lot of vulnerable people got very frightened that they were going to lose benefits that we had no intention of taking away from them. So I think it's really important that when people, you know, free speech is really important if people disagree with a specific measure then they should really make their voice known. But I always think the grave danger is that if you over egg the pudding or if you start saying that the government is planning to do something it isn't planning to do you're actually frightening quite a vulnerable group of people. So you do have to keep it all in proportion but still speak up if you don't think it's right.
LIZ I was going to say...
PAUL I might not agree but I want to hear your voice.
LIZ So if people are on campaigns they won't have their benefits taken away. Oh your look said everything there, Paul. Paul on that, Paul Maynard, MP, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.
PAUL Okay, thank you.

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