Kicking a man over the death of his disabled son is proof it’s the Left that’s truly heartless: ROSA MONCKTON recalls David Cameron’s family heartache
After I’d asked how he comforted his surviving children, the grieving father stood up and walked towards the window.
He gestured towards the sky and said, ‘See that cloud? We tell them: ‘Your brother is sitting up there.’
Then he turned back to me with tears streaming down his face.
In his book, Cameron writes: ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for the reality of losing your darling boy in this way. It was as if the world stopped turning’
It was the kind of uncontrollable grief that pierces the onlooker. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. And it was all the more memorable because the man was David Cameron.
As a disability campaigner, I was conducting an interview for a series of three BBC programmes about disability.
I had asked how his other children were coping with the death of their severely disabled brother some months before. And out it all came.
Yes, he was an Old Etonian, Oxford-educated leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. But in that moment, all I saw was a fellow parent of a disabled child on the brink of emotional collapse.
Mr Cameron has said his son suffered near-constant seizures from birth, some lasting for hours, before succumbing to organ failure shortly before his seventh birthday
He was simply a father in paroxysms of pain at the loss of his beloved six-year-old son, Ivan. Not for one second could anyone have doubted the depth of his grief.
That was my first thought when I read this weekend’s shockingly cruel Guardian leader column, in which they said the former Prime Minister had suffered only ‘privileged pain’ when Ivan passed away.
In response to Cameron’s new autobiography For The Record, in which he says he and his wife were plunged into ‘darkness’ when their eldest child died in 2009, The Guardian published online: ‘Mr Cameron has known pain and failure in his life but it has always been limited failure and privileged pain’.
Unsurprisingly, this comment provoked such widespread uproar that the newspaper later issued an apology and edited the article.
After all, the loss of a child is the loss of a child. Grief is grief. Regardless of class, education, money. To suggest otherwise — in the official and collective view of the paper, no less — is nothing short of wilful bigotry.
I see it as yet another example of the moral presumption of the middle-class Left.
They claim the right to interpret the validity of suffering on behalf of the public as a whole.
The message is: if you have money, you don’t feel things as keenly. You are, in effect, subhuman, not worthy of empathy even in your darkest hour.
Of course, they are only too keen to speak of the perceived ‘intolerance’ of Conservatives and insist they are more caring.
Grief is grief. Regardless of class, education, money. To suggest otherwise — in the official and collective view of the paper, no less — is nothing short of wilful bigotry. Mr Cameron and his wife Samantha are pictured in Portugal in 2015
Yet with those two words — ‘privileged pain’ — they showed the greatest intolerance of all: scorning a bereaved parent’s grief because of his social status.
Their barren world is devoid of true empathy, consisting only of political assessments.
Mr Cameron has said his son suffered near-constant seizures from birth, some lasting for hours, before succumbing to organ failure shortly before his seventh birthday.
My younger daughter Domenica, now 24, was born with Down’s syndrome. I know about the struggles of parenting a disabled child — how bewildering, all-encompassing and shattering it can be.
I can also attest that no amount of wealth or privilege makes any difference to the love or pain you feel.
I’m married to the son of a former Tory Chancellor and on the board of Watches of Switzerland, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt the turmoil of having a disabled child as keenly as any other mother.
Samantha became a patron of KIDS, a charity that helps children with disabilities and their families. It’s a charity that helped me hugely when Domenica was born. We all have a common humanity and when one human being sees another suffering, you try to help
You have to learn how to be a family in a completely different way to what you expected, particularly when you have a child as profoundly disabled as Ivan.
It’s something that is just thrown at you and you’re left scrambling to learn how to care for and protect the child you love.
I know, too, how you lie awake discussing with your partner what on earth would happen to your vulnerable child if you died. And how you cherish even the smallest things — in Cameron’s case, the joy of ‘covering [Ivan’s] legs with warm sand on the beach’ and ‘swinging in a hammock and listening to him gurgle with pleasure’.
What I cannot claim to know is how horrifying it must feel to lose your child at the tender age of six.
In his book, Cameron writes: ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for the reality of losing your darling boy in this way. It was as if the world stopped turning.’
When we met for our interview all those years ago, I sensed that it was too soon after Ivan’s death. We had been discussing the bureaucracy involved in having a disabled child when I asked that fateful question.
We continued filming but afterwards I said to the director that we absolutely couldn’t use the footage of Cameron breaking down.
In fact, Andy Coulson, then his communications director, later rang to ask us to remove it. I reassured him that we certainly would. I’d never seen a man in such pain.
There is no denying that life had initially been kind to Cameron: he was born and married into affluent and socially well-connected families.
But what has that to do with the fact that Ivan started having seizures shortly after his birth in 2002? David describes this as ‘a torture I can hardly bear to remember’.
For his wife Samantha, ‘the mother who bore him and loved him so deeply, it was a torture that was tearing her apart’.
David understood that this was something completely apart from his previous existence: ‘A world in which things had always gone right for me suddenly gave me an immense shock and challenge.’
Perhaps some people, over the years, have criticised me for my own privilege — although I don’t recall it. Interestingly, the Guardian was the only paper not to review the BBC series, even though it was about disability, which it claims as one of its most important topics. Was it because I am from the ‘wrong’ social background, like David Cameron?
It was only after I’d made the BBC programmes that I realised I should use my voice to help others. When the emails started pouring in, I knew I had to do more.
That’s why I set up Team Domenica, a charity which supports young adults with learning disabilities to find employment — it wasn’t just for my daughter but for all those with learning disabilities who are isolated from society and the world of work.
I am often contacted by parents to help them survive the bureaucracy, or attend tribunals with them. And I believe it’s my duty to do so.
You have to learn how to be a family in a completely different way to what you expected, particularly when you have a child as profoundly disabled as Ivan. It’s something that is just thrown at you and you’re left scrambling to learn how to care for and protect the child you love
I know the Camerons feel the same. Samantha became a patron of KIDS, a charity that helps children with disabilities and their families.
It’s a charity that helped me hugely when Domenica was born. We all have a common humanity and when one human being sees another suffering, you try to help.
In my experience, disability is a huge leveller. Thankfully, I have never come across such considered cruelty as the Guardian leader.
The only thing that comes close to a lack of understanding is when friends comment, ‘You’re strong, you’ll be fine’.
Because we all break down. We all have times when we can’t cope.
That’s why it was so wicked for the Guardian to question a man’s capacity to feel the pain of the death of a child simply because of his privileged background.
In doing so, they questioned the strength of a parent’s visceral feelings of love — and loss.
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