Is there ableism in the British Labour Party?

By Austin Harney

While there have been so many suspensions in the Labour Party, we have yet to hear whether there are any based on ableism. On 13th October 2019, I resigned from Neurodivergent Labour by writing a letter to John McDonnell, MP and former Shadow Chancellor, who gave huge support to this group. 

In order to provide more detail, I was born with lack of oxygen at the brain and was diagnosed with Autism by Dr Ken Soddy who was Consultant and Physician in Charge of the development of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University College Hospital. In addition, he was Scientific Director of the World Federation for Mental Health, Consultant to the World Health Organisation and a member of its expert panel on mental health, as well as Consultant to the Home Office. This diagnosis was confirmed, more than 20 years before Hans Asperger’s paper on the mild forms of Autism was recognised in 1994.  

At an early age, I was taken away from mainstream education and put in a ‘special school’ for Autistic children. These schools in the seventies were appalling. My parents fought battles to ensure that I was educated in mainstream schooling and they succeeded, but the medical authorities were, still, monitoring my progress.

In 1978, I had an ECG test at the Whittington Hospital, which is part of Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency. At the age of 11, it was painful and distressing to be told that I was “brain-damaged”, shortly, after my ECG test. I was finally assessed by Dr Dora Black who was an NHS Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She was also Founder, Director, as well as Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Consultant of the Traumatic Stress Clinic in London (the first of its kind for children in the United Kingdom). Dr Dora Black concluded that my lack of oxygen at the brain did cause my Autism, but I revealed signs of improvement. Therefore, she confirmed that I could stay in mainstream education.

It is important to note that Dr Dora Black, who has been retired for many years, received an interview on International Women’s Day in 2020! I would like to thank the National Health Service for providing such great specialists. Today, I am contributing to the Labour Party and the trade union movement. In my personal opinion, it is to heroines like Dr Dora Black that the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement owe a debt of gratitude.

Sadly, many members of Neurodivergent Labour have refused to recognise my Autism being caused by lack of oxygen at the brain and made nasty and condescending criticisms of my diagnosis on social media. They even threatened to take action against me if I dared to make the cause of my Autism public. In addition, they accused me of providing ammunition to the ‘anti-Vaxxers’ and so called ‘cure mongers’ of Autism. But I have campaigned against these groups and categorically emphasised that Autism is not caused by vaccines, and there is no cure for Autism, just as there is no cure for any form of sexual orientation! Additionally, I never dispute a person’s cause of Autism, regardless of whether it is brain injury or genetic factors.

These people in Neurodivergent Labour are also Autistic Advocates, and associated with some of the most potentially ableist organisations. One organisation justified making a mockery of my lack of oxygen at the brain causing Autism. In addition, this organisation is not only hostile to people of my diagnosis but those with Asperger Syndrome, because only the word Autism can be used. A number of people including myself have suffered cyber-bullying, discrimination and abuse from such Autistic Advocates that include members of Neurodivergent Labour.

The Labour Party leadership are well aware of these incidents. I have sent my personal medical file to the Labour Party HQ in the strictest confidence. But is this leadership taking action against such ableism? We are a socialist organisation with the duty to tear discrimination ‘out by the roots’, a phrase used by the Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer. It is important that the British Labour Party fights against all forms of discrimination!

Austin Harney is a member of Hertsmere CLP and Ministry of Justice Group Executive Committee for the PCS Union, writing in a personal capacity. He was the former Convenor of Neurodivergent Labour.

Image: Autism. License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution: Alpha Stock Images – Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – Original Image:

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