Power 100: lists and the nature of power

Power 100: lists and the nature of power

Following the publication of the most recent list of the most powerful disabled people in Britain, Ian Macrae asks what are such lists for.

What is it that makes Alex Brooker the second most powerful disabled person in Britain? Not that I have anything against him personally or professionally. Nor do I begrudge him his newly allotted status. I just genuinely wonder what gives him that position?

Meanwhile, ahead of him, occupying the top slot in this years’ Power 100 list, of Britain’s most powerful disabled people, I’d bet my house that Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson feels something less than powerful and more like powerless as she sits on a rapidly emptying train at London King’s Cross station with her passenger assistance failing to turn up yet again. Or, as she arrives at her London residence in a block of flats to discover that the lift is once more out of order she lacks the power in a literal sense to facilitate her easy access.

This is not to say that disabled Peers like Baronesses Grey Thompson, Jane Campbell and Rosalie Wilkins have not exercised the power their positions give them in pursuit of important ends and worthy causes, such as in battles against the Government’s ongoing cutting agenda on social security or their fellow peer Lord Falconer’s repeated attempts to change the law on assisted dying. In those contexts they speak individually and collectively with powerful voices. But at the end of the day, how much power do they actually have, let alone exert? It would be interesting to ask them.

The Government’s cutting has gone on and doubtless Lord Falconer or his supporters in the House of Commons will be back with another bill challenging the current status quo.

So what happens if we substitute “influence” for “power”? This was the case with previous lists published both by Disability Now (pre my editorship) and the website Disability News Service (DNS).

On the first of these the most powerful disabled person in Britain was deemed to be the then prime Minister Gordon Brown. Once again the point is highly moot since Mr Brown never had and, I suspect, never would have identified himself as a disabled person.

I was once asked myself if I’d agree to my name being put on such a list. I said I would not because I didn’t regard myself as powerful or influential: rather it was Disability Now in which power or influence was vested, and even that is and was open to argument.

Among the things lists like this can legitimately claim to do, but briefly, are to thrust a bunch of disabled people, be they politicians, sports stars or, as is the case elsewhere, just famous for being famous into the spotlight. They also could say that they challenge general perceptions, assumptions and prejudices which do not normally acknowledge that disabled people are powerful.

What these lists exist for ultimately, of course, is to raise the profile of those who create them. Is it not true that the name of Forbes is probably better known than many of the names on it because of the creation of its Rich List.

My own preference is for us to create our own heroes and acknowledge those who create themselves. Not that, perhaps, anything I say matters much in the scheme of things.

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