A disabled writer-activist is hoping that his new novel will alert its readers to the “scary” undercurrent of disablism that has been repeatedly stirred up by the government’s “benefit scrounger” rhetoric.The Norwich Wheelchair Murders is Bill Albert’s eighth novel, and its combination of hard-bitten cynicism, sharp dialogue, ruthless gangsters and fast-moving plot has led to it being dubbed the first of a new genre: Crip Noir.It follows the journey taken by Bobby “The Fixer” Fishbaum, who sees “handicapped people” as “big time losers. Disgusting. Unpredictable. Embarrassing. Helpless.”Fishbaum has to flee his penthouse in Santa Monica to escape some vengeful Russian gangsters, and ends up hiding out with his five-year-old daughter in a council flat in Norwich, while also coming to terms with a diagnosis that has left him using a wheelchair.It is a similar journey to the one Albert took himself. Born in New York, the former university academic grew up and studied in California, but has lived in England since 1964, and in Norwich for more than 45 years.He did not discover that he was a disabled person until he finally received a medical diagnosis at the age of 31, but his journey to feeling comfortable with that identity was a gradual one that took at least another 10 years.That journey was aided by meeting other “crips” at a Norwich access group, people whose demonstration of “lives well lived” taught him, he said, about himself and “how to be”.Before he met them, like his character Bobby Fishbaum, he says in a short memoir, he “didn’t know any disabled people. I didn’t want to either. They frightened me, repelled me with their crippled twitching, garbled speech, their unnatural ways.”Taking part in the last of the anti-Telethon demos outside the studios of London Weekend Television in 1992 – where his teachers were “five hundred joyfully angry crips, rolling and staggering and stumbling and drooling and twitching and shouting and singing and waving banners” – was a swift introduction to the disabled people’s movement, the social model and direct action.Soon he was importing some of that back to Norwich, and helping to set up Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People – these days known as Equal Lives – for which he was the founding chair.One of the disabled “role models” who taught him “how to be” was an activist called Brendan Carroll, on whom he loosely based the character of Brendan in his novel.The novel’s dedication says it was Carroll, who died several years ago, and six other disabled friends who taught him “the joys of being a bolshy crip”.Albert says: “I miss him every day. He was a very unlikely, charismatic figure. He really lived a life. I have made him into my crip superhero.”His novel’s other disabled characters are “amalgams” of other disabled people he knows, albeit “a bit more extreme” than they are in real life.The Norwich Wheelchair Murders was, he says, an attempt “to explain disability to the world which was different to how anybody else had done it”.One of its central themes is the extent to which disabled people are subjected to hate crime, something Albert started to become aware of while editing the monthly newsletter for the international disability rights charity Disability Awareness in Action, and from hearing about the experiences of other disabled people in Norwich, particularly those with learning difficulties.As other disabled activists and artists – most notably Liz Crow – have done in recent years, he draws a parallel between the attitudes to disabled people in Nazi Germany that found its most brutal expression in the Aktion T4 programme, which saw the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and similar attitudes that have surfaced in recent years in the UK.As one character in his novel says: “He said most disabled people were little more than a burden on themselves and the rest of us too. Scroungers, he called them, useless scroungers. Already half dead anyway.”It was an attitude Albert noticed as a member of the Human Genetics Commission – between 1999 and 2005 – when he came across views that can only be described as “eugenics” but which had been “crafted in a medical way”, and suggested that “disabled people were not something you would want to choose”.He said: “It’s gone much further now. It’s really scary stuff. That’s always in the back of my mind, because I was right there when it was all being trotted out and debated.”Albert insists that the hateful attitudes espoused by some of the characters in his novel are not that different to the rhetoric spouted by some politicians.He said: “Look at the all the stuff that’s coming out from the government.“They are kind of painting us as very much like that, but not in that kind of stark language, but if you read the sub-titles that’s what you think.”It is reflected, he says, in the everyday experiences of disabled people. “People I know have had nasty comments made to them about being a scrounger.”He adds: “Look what the government has done in the last five years. All the stuff we have fought for, I have been fighting for for 25 years – lots of other people for even longer – has been rolled back. We are going backwards at the moment.”He is still treasurer of Equal Lives, and has been active in the fight against public sector cuts that is a major feature of the organisation’s work – he says many disabled people in Norfolk are being “devastated” by the cuts – although these days in more of a backroom support role.Indeed, just hours before Disability News Service’s interview with Albert, disabled activists and others staged a demonstration outside the headquarters of Norfolk County Council, in protest at further planned cuts to public services.The Norwich Wheelchair Murders does not address government cuts and rhetoric head-on, and instead tries a more subtle approach, hinting at the backdrop of cuts that exists behind the lives of its disabled characters.But Albert says he “absolutely” wants the book to deliver a wake-up call on disability hate crime.“Those attitudes are out there,” he says. “This government has done nothing but stoke them, basically, while saying, ‘We are not against disabled people, we want to help them, they are the most needy,’ which doesn’t mean anything.”
A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS… Disabled activists and their allies have forced a council into a significant climbdown over its “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.Manchester City Council (MCC) said this week that it had asked artist Jeremy Deller to examine how the memorial he designed can now be made “fully accessible”.The council-funded memorial was set to be completely inaccessible to many disabled people (pictured), even though Deller wanted it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.The council had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.But there has now been an apparent climbdown following weeks of protests led by disabled activists.The council’s announcement follows a meeting between city councillors Luthfur Rahman (executive member for skills, culture and leisure) and Tracey Rawlins (lead member for disabled people), and representatives of disabled people’s groups.Mark Todd, a disabled access expert who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and has called it “a monument to discrimination” – said he was “really pleased” at the council’s apparent change of approach.He said that the “breadth and determination” of the campaign and the willingness to work with the council appeared to have paid off.And he said the campaign had built an “amazing coalition” that included disabled people, artists, celebrities, and citizens of Manchester “who all want a Peterloo Memorial that is accessible to everyone”.Among those who have supported the campaign are the musician and activist Billy Bragg, who said: “Surely something that symbolises the struggle for universal rights should be accessible to all.”Disabled comedian and activist Francesca Martinez said it was “extraordinary” that the memorial design had not been inclusive, while there has also been criticism from disabled actor-campaigners Cherylee Houston and Ali Briggs.Briggs said: “We all want a memorial, yes that’s true. We just don’t want one like this, that we can’t be proud of.”Todd said this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” following the council’s statement, but until there was a “fitting and accessible Peterloo Memorial”, the campaign and a weekly vigil near the site would continue.He said: “We are not ready to put away our placards just yet.”Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which has played a key role in the protests, also welcomed the announcement.But it warned that the council had not yet met its three demands – to stop work on the memorial while it was still low enough to include a ramp; to ensure the memorial was accessible; and to make sure there was no repeat of the council’s failure with future projects – and pointed out that building work on the inaccessible memorial was now nearly finished.Campaigners will meet next week with the council, Deller and the architect working on the project, and will then decide whether to review their demands.A GMCDP spokesperson said: “MCC’s decision to build the memorial to its full height and then explore access solutions afterwards, limits considerably what can be done to make it a platform everyone can use.“We do not know what MCC have in mind, if anything, and we acknowledge that a perfect solution may not be arrived at immediately. “What is needed most at this stage is the commitment to find a genuine accessible long-term solution, properly considered, fully consulted on and backed up with some teeth and a budget.”The council has faced weeks of anger from disabled people and allies that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality in the 19th century should apparently have been “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.Now the council has said that it regrets that the design of the memorial “did not give enough consideration to access issues”.Cllr Rahman said: “Manchester City Council has a long and proud record around access issues, something which disabled access campaigners have acknowledged. “However, we recognise that the interpretation of the brief for the Peterloo Memorial, with an imaginative design involving a more interactive element than originally envisaged for a public artwork, did not give enough consideration to access issues and we regret this.“We recently met with representatives of disabled people’s groups to further discuss this issue and we have asked the artist and architect to look at how the monument in its current form can be modified to make it fully accessible.“We will share more details about where we are up to and the proposed way forward as soon as we are in a position to do so.“We are listening and doing all we can to resolve this satisfactorily.”Deller told DNS last night (Wednesday) that he was optimistic that a solution could be found to make the memorial accessible.*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre
Campaigners for a fresh EU referendum have welcomed Labour’s backing but admitted that an amendment supporting the move could still fail to gain MPs’ approval. Left-wing cross-party group Another Europe is Possible has described the new commitment made by Jeremy Corbyn on Monday as a “huge step forward” – however it also says the party must actively campaign ahead of the vote.The organisation has drafted a new motion for Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to debate and pass. “Labour must now campaign against Brexit on the doorstep, and prepare to win a fresh referendum,” reads the motion, which resolves that “all Labour MPs must vote in favour of a public vote on the final Brexit deal”.LabourList has been asking MPs and other party sources for their views on the potential size of the rebellion when the proposal for another referendum comes to a Commons vote. Most currently estimate that there will be between 25 and 50 Labour MPs defying the whip to vote against or abstain, including some shadow ministers. This number would prevent the amendment from passing. Many MPs are waiting to see the final draft before making their decision.Another Europe is Possible’s motion calls on Labour to “campaign for a public vote, not just vote for one – including by mobilising for demonstrations”. The group has planned a day of action on March 10th, and Jeremy Corbyn will be expected by those in favour of another public vote to attend the “put it to the people” demonstration in London on 23rd March.AEIP organiser Ana Oppenheim said: “Labour’s move towards backing a public vote on Brexit is a huge step forward. This will save Labour’s electoral chances, and it is the right thing to do. The overwhelming majority of Labour members, and its voters in every seat, back a fresh public vote. Brexit is a Tory project – it is about driving down regulatory standards, wages and rights. Allowing Brexit to happen will make it much harder for us to implement a radical manifesto. Stopping it gives us the chance to bring down the government and put forward a radical vision for transforming Britain and Europe. “But we have to be clear that just voting for the right amendment may not be enough. Labour’s policy isn’t just to whip for a public vote, it is to campaign for one. We need Labour to be out on doorsteps up and down the country making the case for a public vote, and backing demonstrations demanding a final say. Mass mobilisation could shift the balance of forces in parliament, and Labour can deliver that, combining it with the radical political demands we need to win a referendum.”Tags:Labour /Jeremy Corbyn /Brexit /Another Europe is Possible /People’s Vote /Public vote /
ANTHONY Laffranchi is the latest player to be interviewed on Saints TV.In an eventful week he spoke about the mood in the camp, the match on Sunday and his own form.You can watched on the video player below or click here to see in the fanzone.Alternatively, you can click here to watch on our Youtube Channel.
FOUR tries in ten blistering second half minutes saw Saints record a comfortable 52-10 win at Salford.After toiling to a 14-6 half time lead they cut the Reds to pieces with some outstanding attacking play.Jonny Lomax was in superb form, having a hand in his side’s second half scores whilst looking solid at the back.He was supported by Paul Wellens and Jordan Turner in particular.In the first half, Turner added his ninth of the season before Willie Manu increased the advantage.But Martin Gleeson replied to bring the Reds right back into it.Saints had chances but had to settle for a Garth O’Brien penalty at the stroke of half time.In the second half, Jodie Broughton made it game on before Wellens, Lomax and Turner crossed for three tries in five minutes.And Anthony Laffranchi got his sixth of the campaign with a typical run.Francis Meli then added another couple before Josh Jones brought up the 50 and a comprehensive victory.Saints made two changes from the team that beat Bradford Bulls – Laffranchi coming in for Sia Soliola and Luke Thompson returning on the bench after a virus.Wellens and Lomax at 6 and 1 respectively.Salford started lively and almost got lucky when a Wayne Godwin offload sparked a chance in the corner.Saints retaliated with a couple of good sets and kick chase but the home side continued to pile on the pressure.On 10 minutes an innocuous high ball from James Roby was spilled on the floor by Jodie Broughton. That gave Saints head and feed in Salford’s 20 but the chance was lost as the ball came left.But on the quarter of an hour mark Lomax picked up a loose ball in midfield, scampered away and combined with Wellens to put Jordan Turner in.And his ninth of the season was converted by Gareth O’Brien.Willie Manu notched up Saints’ second just before the 20th minute – stretching out under some poor tackling.Martin Gleeson replied on 24 minutes for the home side as he polished off a fantastic move after Saints were penalised in midfield.Saints’ offloads were once again causing the opposition problems, but they couldn’t find that killer pass to make it count.A fantastic tackle by O’Brien on Broughton with less than three minutes stopped the flyer racing away for a certain score.Saints then had two sets on the Salford line but had to settle for an O’Brien penalty to make it 14-6 at half time.An error in Saints’ territory gave Salford the perfect chance to kick off the second half but Lomax was more than up to the task.But two penalties – the second one very controversial – saw Broughton fly over in the corner.Sneyd missing his conversion attempt.Wellens replied almost immediately on his 450th game for the club – ghosting through the defence and showing great footwork.O’Brien converted and on Saints’ next drive a kick on the last rebounded off a Salford player and straight into the hands of a gleeful Lomax.Saints’ next try was out of the top drawer – Turner racing down the right hand side, cutting back to fire the ball inside, before it went back out for his 10th of the year.Three tries in five minutes making it very much a Saints second half blitz!Anthony Laffranchi was barely on the field 30 seconds before he got Saints sixth of the night on 60 minutes – O’Brien converting for 36-10.Saints grabbed another try when Lance Hohaia’s run set up a four on three overlap on the left hand side. Lomax then cut two men out on a great pass and Meli crossed in the corner.O’Brien’s seventh conversion off the night pinging in off the post.Lomax’ speed set up Meli’s second – a bamboozling run and great pass from Josh Jones.And with five minutes to go Saints passed the 50 mark with a fortuitous effort.A chip kick from O’Brien saw panic in the Salford defence and then they inexplicably threw it into Josh Jones’ hands for the easiest try of this career.It was a bizarre end to a superb and satisfying evening from the Saints.Match Summary:Reds: Tries: Gleeson, BroughtonGoals: Sneyd (1 from 2),Saints: Tries: Turner (2), Manu, Wellens, Lomax, Laffranchi, Meli (2), JonesGoals: O’Brien (8 from 10)Penalties: Reds: 3Saints: 6HT: 14-6FT: 52-10REF: G StokesATT: 3711Teams:Reds:6. Lee Gaskell; 2. Jodie Broughton, 3. Ashley Gibson, 4. Martin Gleeson, 5. Danny Williams; 22. Marc Sneyd, 21. Theo Fages; 10. Shannon McPherson, 14. Wayne Godwin, 27. Darrell Griffin, 11. Matty Ashurst, 12. Andrew Dixon, 13. Stephen Wild.Subs: 19. Jordan James, 23. Ryan McGoldrick, 35. Adam Walne, 36. Jake Emmitt.Saints:7. Jonny Lomax; 21. Tom Makinson, 3. Jordan Turner, 19. Josh Jones, 5. Francis Meli; 1. Paul Wellens, 37. Gareth O’Brien; 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 9. James Roby, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 11. Tony Puletua, 13. Willie Manu, 12. Jon Wilkin.Subs: 6. Lance Hohaia, 24. Joe Greenwood, 25. Alex Walmsley, 33. Luke Thompson.