Autism and the importance of self advocacy

Amy Field

CW: ableism

When you think of the word Autism, what do you think? 

In all honesty, if you thought of a young white boy, perhaps about 5 or 6 years old, screaming in a supermarket, I don’t blame you. It’s an inevitable consequence of the conversation around autism that has gone on in the last few years, which is often dominated by parents and littered with misinformation. I’m sure everyone is aware of the vaccine scares (because an autistic child is apparently worse than a dead child) as well as more obscure theories about gluten, sugar or any variety of ‘toxin’…frankly the list goes on. So, let’s get the record straight.

Autism is a neurotype, although it is chronically under-diagnosed in women and girls, it occurs in all genders and amongst all ethnic groups. And yes, autistic adults exist, contrary to media depictions. It is not caused by vaccines, food, or too much TV, in fact it’s not actually known what causes it – and that’s okay! This is because there is nothing bad about being autistic, it is simply a difference. That’s not to say that we are all super geniuses like some media depictions would have you believe (thankfully, Sheldon Cooper is just a product of bad writing), but it is true that for most autistic people, we see and experience the world in a different way.

You may have heard of the term ‘neurodiversity’. It’s a relatively new term that appreciates the different ways in which we are able to experience the world around us, and frames autism as a difference, rather than explicitly a disability. This doesn’t negate the fact that some autistic people do consider themselves to have a disability, which is of course, entirely valid. However, neurodiversity is actually a great thing! The term and concept of neurodiversity is a direct result of self advocacy; autistic and other neurodivergent people are slowly being included in the conversation, making our own choices about how to advocate for ourselves in a neurotypical world.

This has made huge steps in working to break down the stereotypes and barriers that exist around autism. The autistic community has been able to come together against harmful groups such as ‘Autism Speaks’ that at one time spoke over us. For those who don’t know, Autism Speaks is an American charity that has advocated for the use of harmful therapies in an attempt to ‘cure’ autism and even in 2009 created a video that claimed an autistic child would ‘make sure your marriage fails’. Note that no autistic people are on its board. More recently, autistic people were at the forefront of the backlash towards Sia’s film Music. It’s hard to know where to begin with the film; from casting a neurotypical actress in the role of an autistic teenager, to including the use of lethal restraints on autistic people, Music is damaging, ignorant, ableist and offensive. Clearly, autistic people still have a lot to contend with. 

Autistic and other neurodivergent people are not mysteries, or puzzles to be solved like the Autism Speaks logo would have you think. We are human beings who just experience life slightly differently. The vast majority of us reject the narratives that have been perpetuated by neurotypical people and have led to huge amounts of abuse which still goes on today. And let’s not forget decades of institutionalisation that saw thousands of autistic people just locked away. 

Thinking about the future, advocacy needs to centre around the voices of autistic and neurodivergent people themselves. Organisations such as the Autism Self Advocacy Network, as well as support groups within Oxford, have been facilitating this and have made great steps in overcoming historic barriers. Within Labour, Neurodivergent Labour has also made steps in centring autistic voices within the party, releasing a Neurodiversity Manifesto that was created by neurodivergent members of the party and adopted in 2019.

There is still a long way to go, but everyday new steps are being made. I would encourage neurotypical allies to stand with us in solidarity, but please remember: nothing about us without us


Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

The Case Against First Past the Post

Jasper Evans

It is a tale as old as time. The years of a new government drag on, the opposition, without an election in sight, gets restless. The idea of endorsing electoral reform once again pops up, its name having been hesitantly called. Yet again the Labour party is considering a switch away from first past the post. And as always, the electoral calculators emerge, and get to work calculating the potential ‘rainbow alliance’.

Never mind that last time the Liberal democrats, like a 35-year-old white professional, decided on the Conservatives after flirting with a left-leaning coalition. Never mind that proportional representation would almost certainly lead to the end of the Labour party as we know it, with the left and right wings already picking at the seams. Never mind that how people vote now is dependent on their knowledge of the political system, and may well change if we switched.

No, the switch to PR would almost certainly lead to a Labour – Lib Dem coalition, these advocates say. Yet, despite the optimistic impossibility of these outcomes, this change is still one worth going for. Fundamentally, the aim of the Labour party is to improve the lives of the many, not to have a majority of seats in parliament. A PR system may lead to the end of the party, but it would also end the constant manufactures right wing rule – in the last 21 elections, there has not been a single majority of right-wing votes, yet there has been a right-wing majority in seats in 10 of those, covering the majority of the period.

Coalition building would require policies to be at the forefront of the agenda, with popular left-wing plans such as nationalisation of the rail or higher taxes on the wealthy becoming far more likely. Policies for the good of all will be more likely under a PR system. Yet the heart of it goes even deeper still. The Labour party has always been a democratic party, it believes that the people should lead the nation; our current system does not allow that. It took 38 thousand votes to elect each conversative MP, the greens, on the other hand, needed 866 thousand. Beyond day-to-day politics and policies, we need to ensure we live in a country where people’s votes actually matter.

Political reform will not guarantee a magnificent Lib-Lab majority next election, but it doesn’t need to to justify itself. The Labour party stands for bettering the lives of the people, and democracy; we can’t do that if we keep trying to be the first past the post.

Photo credit: thepicturedrome via Flickr

Maureen Colquhoun: An Obituary


Sabrina Coghlan-Jasiewicz

The start of this year’s LGBTQ+ history month has brought with it the saddening death of Maureen Colquhoun, the first openly lesbian MP in British history. She died on the 2nd February at 92 years of age, leaving behind three children and a truly impressive legacy that we must endeavour never to forget.

Colquhoun was a trailblazer, remembered not just for her sexuality but also for her pioneering work in advocating for women’s rights. She was MP for Northampton North from 1974 to 1979, during which she campaigned relentlessly for gender balance, legal protection for sex workers, and access to abortion. It was during her attempts to pass the Balance of the Sexes Bill in 1975, a bill that was designed to ‘Ensure that appointments to the boards of public bodies and corporations, to certain committees, panels and tribunals, and to juries and the House of Lords, shall consist of women and men in equal numbers’, that she met Babs Todd, editor of the lesbian Sappho magazine and her future partner. Although the bill did not become law, her work in parliament helped to pave the way for future changes to legislation that revolutionised women’s lives simply by opening up the conversation and refusing absolutely to be shut down in the face of an overwhelmingly male house (in which there were fewer than 30 female MPs). Consistently, she called out the hypocrisies of Parliament, such when in March 1975 she pointed out that no women had been called to speak for more than an hour into a debate on the Sex Equality Bill.

Colquhoun’s legacy as a lesbian in politics speaks to her incredible courage, as well as her absolute commitment to campaigning for change. It was not by choice that Colquhoun became the first lesbian MP – she was outed in 1976 by Nigel Dempster in a gossip column he wrote for the Daily Mail. Despite this violation of Colquhoun’s privacy and a clear attempt to weaponize her sexuality against her, she maintained in her 1980 autobiography A Woman in the House that ‘there was never, not once, ever any attempt to hide our relationship, and I have always sought to give us status as a couple, for I believed it to be, as I do all gay relationships, as valid and as entitled to respect as any other relationship.’ Her commitment to openness, her lack of shame for her sexuality in a society that tried time and time again to shun her, is an inspiration. Indeed, following this public outing her own party tried to deselect her in order to prevent her running as the candidate in the 1979 General Election, citing her ‘obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights’ as the reason for this. Yet Colquhoun fought back: in September 1977 she successfully appealed the decision at the National Executive Committee, and stood again as candidate in the General Election two years later.

Although she lost her seat to the Conservative opposition, her refusal to back down, to hide, or to give up exemplifies her courage and unwavering commitment to her constituents, as well as more widely the women of Britain. Colquhoun saw her role as a parliamentarian as specifically to implement legislation that would make equality for women a legal reality rather than the mere lip service she had seen throughout her life. She recognised the need for legal protection for women and fought unwaveringly for it. One of her final acts in Parliament was to introduce the Protection for Prostitutes Bill in March 1979. Even in her speech introducing it, she affirmed her radical feminist views by stating that ‘I do not hide the fact that I believe that all prostitution laws must be abolished, but the amendments are an attempt at this stage to put injustices right quickly’. After she lost her seat, she continued to work as an assistant to several other Labour MPs, and she served as a member of Hackney London Borough Council from 1982 to 1990. Eventually, she moved to the Lake District with Todd, where she remained active in the community until her death.

To remember Colquhoun only as the first lesbian MP is to severely overlook her extensive and impressive work in advancing women’s rights in Britain. She will be remembered for her outspokenness, her courage, and for her unwavering commitment to her beliefs of equality in the face of great opposition. Although the Bills she brought to Parliament did not pass, her work ensured that vulnerable women were not forgotten – she gave them a voice.

Image credit: Queer Britain via Twitter

Edward Mundy: Oxford City Council Candidate Profile

Hello, I am Edward Mundy. I am running for Labour in the Holywell ward for the City Council Elections in May 2021 along with Imogen Thomas.

I first moved to Oxford over ten years ago and before this it was my father’s hometown whilst I was growing up. Over this time, like other residents I have come to understand the City more closely and the issues it faces. My knowledge of the interesting dynamics of our City has only been enhanced by experience working across a diverse rage sectors from catering to health care before now working for Royal Mail. It is this knowledge and passion about my community that led me to stand.

I first got into politics through my Trade Union at Royal Mail, the Communication Workers Union, where I have now been an industrial relations rep for around two years.

Trade Unions are critical to giving a voice to working people – protecting our welfare, pay and conditions. Organising in our workplace through the Labour Movement is how we build a fairer society from the bottom up – one workplace at a time.

It is through my union that I also started campaigning for Labour – the political voice of the Labour movement, starting with campaigning in the last two general elections on the street, leafleting and through telephone canvassing. A Labour Government and Councils working hand in hand with Trade Unions and workers on the shop floor makes sure that working people’s priorities are at the heart of decision making and we can build a City and wider County that works for everyone, where no one is left behind.

A Labour majority on the City Council ensures a local focus on protecting frontline services from austerity, that we tackle the climate crisis locally and prioritise the welfare of the most vulnerable. There is nothing inevitable about this – we only have a pioneering Labour City Council because people voted for one. Not voting or voting for another parties puts this valuable work at risk.

Your City Council in Oxford is responsible for: housing and multiple occupancy licensing, leisure and other community centres, environmental health, planning policy and much else in between. It is vital that in May we return councillors who value our public services, our health and environment and understand the needs of workers and their families.

Equality, fairness, and human dignity are paramount to me. If elected as a councillor, I would bring these principles into practice to address some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in Oxford.

Our city has a housing security problem. We must ensure that safe and secure accommodation is available to those at risk of rough sleeping by continuing the pioneering ‘Housing First’ approach of our Labour City Council which means no-one has to sleep rough on our streets and more people are supported into long-term accommodation. Private landlords must also be licensed and properly regulated to prevent the scourge of cramped and poorly maintained 21st Century slums. I will advocate more new houses for council rent and other homes that are affordable for our City’s key workers. Over 1,000 new council homes are in the works – but we need to go further and be bolder.

I will also campaign for the Oxford Living Wage (rising from £10.21 to £10.31 in April) to be adopted by as many businesses as we can. I would like to encourage all University of Oxford students to keep up the pressure on College Principals to follow the University’s lead and pay all staff the local minimum – that reflect the cost pressures of living in an expensive city like ours.

One of the great strengths of Oxford is that it is a truly industrial working-class city as well as being home to two highly renowned universities. The city thrives while all are strong. We need to call upon this strength now more than ever before and ensure we maintain the strong bridges between all our communities. These are challenging and troubling times for all of us. I can only imagine what it is like to be locked down as a student, and key workers are under more pressure than ever.

Due to COVID these days campaigning will be different, not least in our ward, as meeting voters on the doorstep can’t happen for the foreseeable. Our campaign will have to be largely online and on social media, both for the student community and for other residents in Holywell.

Holywell is in the centre of Oxford and is currently held by two Labour councillors with a tiny majority – so residents’ choices here will be critical to deciding whether we continue to have a world-leading Labour-led City Council.

The ward borders Parks Road and Catte Street at the west, St Aldates and Christchurch Meadow at the south and south west, The Plain and the Angel and Greyhound Meadow to the east, and Keble Road and University Parks to the north. The colleges within the ward boundaries are: Queens College, Christ Church, Merton, Corpus Christi, Magdalen, University College, St Edmund Hall, New College, St Catherine’s, All Souls, Hertford, Wadham, Mansfield, Keble, Linacre, Oriel and Harris Manchester.

If you are a resident of the ward, it will be crucial to get registered for a postal vote – so you can keep safe during COVID – and to encourage others to do the same.

Thank you and stay safe.


Alex Hollingsworth: Oxford City Council Candidate Profile

I joined the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 1987 General Election, just as I started as an undergraduate student at the LSE. What drove me then, and still drives me today, are three things.

First, that societies based on equality for all are better than those that are not, and that the pursuit of equality cannot be passive, but means constant effort to overcome inequality.

Second, that the broad-church tradition of the Labour Party and the Co-operative movement is the best way of achieving that first objective; we will always achieve more together than separately.

And third, that without Labour being in positions of power nationally and locally we don’t just lose forward progress to a better and more equal society, we go backwards.

I made my home in this city in 1991 and was first elected as a councillor in 1994. Working with the Labour Party here, knocking on doors, listening to and representing my constituents on one of the city’s largest council estates made me all too aware of what is often hidden by the tourist postcard views of the dreaming spires.

Problems like the yawning gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest parts of Oxford, the desperate shortage of secure and affordable homes for young families, levels of traffic and air pollution that damage the health of all.

These are all things where Labour-run Oxford City Council has taken action, and needs to continue to take action, something that means being prepared to stand up for difficult decisions.

It is no good saying that you are appalled by rough sleeping if you not prepared to support the building of new genuinely affordable homes. That’s why I have consistently argued in favour of new housing in and around this city even on Green Belt land if necessary, and will continue to do so.

It’s no good saying that pollution is too high if you are not prepared to support measures to cut the car traffic that causes it. That’s why I took the lead on pedestrianising streets in the city centre, and why I support the radical measures in the Connecting Oxford proposals to cut car traffic right across the city.

It’s no good saying that the gap between rich and poor is shocking, if you are not prepared to promote the Oxford Living Wage, better job security and more rights for tenants, and the life-long investment in support and education that will close that gap rather than allow it to open further.

Those then are my priorities if I am elected: a relentless campaign for more homes that are secure, decent and affordable for all; radical measures to cut traffic and prioritise public transport, cycling and pedestrians; and support for policies that close the gaps between the richest and poorest, and make our city one that can be proud that its citizens are equal.

Alex is standing as the Labour & Co-operative City Council Candidate for Carfax & Jericho. He is currently a City Councillor for Carfax and before this was a City Councillor for Barton.

Carfax & Jericho ward includes the following colleges: Balliol, Blackfriars, Brasenose, Exeter, Jesus, Lincoln, Nuffield, Regent’s Park, St Benet’s Hall, St Cross, St John’s, St Peter’s, Trinity and Worcester.