Look At It This Way - September 16, 2011

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Blackpool has played a hugely significant role in reshaping central government policy with regard to hate crime.

It’s worth making that point, as this resort already gets kicked when it’s down time and again – something of an hate figure in its own right when it comes to other people’s prejudices. “You live in Blackpool – I suppose someone has to...”

Locally, we like to hail Blackpool as a big-hearted, all-embracing resort, which celebrates the differences in us all, although just how realistic that is when one of Britain’s leading disability awareness campaigners can’t get a seat on a bus without causing a Jeremy Kyle-style debate is a moot point.

I was staggered to learn that Stephen Brookes, key adviser to some of the most influential central government and national strategy committees around, had been called a cripple after asking one girl to give up a seat reserved for those with mobility issues on a bus.

To add insult to injury, a heated debate as to his right to the seat followed, with one adult ticking her off, and another pointing out the girl had paid for her seat, and Stephen had a pass.

On that basis we should all sit while those with sticks, or wheelchairs, or prams, or hidden infirmities or difficulties, or of advancing years, stand.

Local pensioners already know what it feels like to be scapegoated for concessionary travel – in spite of being most likely to have put in more working years than many of us enjoy or endure – and that’s likely to intensify with Blackpool Council losing half its local transport grant.

But it’s odd, isn’t it, how so many battles can start over something so simple? The right to ride a bus, sit in a certain area, access the facilities taken for granted by so many of us. Has history taught us so little?

But here’s the good news. Kids by and large aren’t the main culprits. It’s the older generation which tends to be bigger on bigotry. Which is why education is all important. Root it out at an earlier age before the rot well and truly sets in. Having grown up in a sectarian district of Liverpool I know how important that is. Having been bullied for my accent on moving to Blackpool – even told by my head teacher that it would “help to lose the accent” (which I did) – I know how bullying can hurt.

It’s worth noting that Bispham High’s deputy head John Topping played an influential role, with Mr Brookes, at the equality and human rights commission inquiry into hate crime this week. At the end of next week there’s another specialist assembly for pupils, new to the school, to learn more about treating themselves and others with respect and care and courtesy and consideration. Pretty much how we all want to be treated. And it’s working there.

The challenge is to get the rest of us to follow suit...