David Cameron has just taken his first real “kicking” of the campaign from a parent of a disabled child. Handled it brilliantly, I think. The parent is angry, understandably, about the problems he has finding a normal school for his wheelchair-bound son. The Tories are suspicious of the “inclusion” agenda – often a code for denying special-needs children the extra tuition that they deserve. But, as the father of a severely disabled son, Cameron knows more about this subject than almost anyone else in Westminster.
“It should be your choice, sir” he said: and he’s right. The voucher system would make a disabled child worth north of £22,000 a year to teach – four times more than an able-bodied pupil. You can bet that the new breed of Swedish-style 'free' schools (if they are allowed to make a profit) will be doing all they can to attract the business of people like the father Cameron spoke to. He should be in a position, under the Tory proposal, where special needs schools and “normal” schools are fighting for the right to educate his son.
Cameron tried his best to get this across: people will differ on this, but I didn’t see him looking defensive. I saw him empathise. “Nice to meet you,” he said to the wheelchair-bound pupil at the end. Cameron knows how irritating it is to see adults ignore a disabled child, as if they are not a person just because they can’t communicate as well. Cameron crouched down, to make sure the child could see the discussion he was having with his father: a position that he will be all too familiar with.
Cameron is very good at dealing with real people, and I think that came across. I wish him several more such encounters in the remaining nine days of the campaign.