Liam Conlon

Disability advocate wins Beckenham and Penge for Labour

A disability advocate who is the son of Keir Starmer’s chief of staff has won Bromley’s brand new seat of Beckenham and Penge.

Labour’s Liam Conlon, son of Sue Gray, secured more than double the votes of Conservative Hannah Gray, virtually half of the overall vote.

The Conservatives held the previous seat of Beckenham since its inception in 1950, while Labour had previously held Lewisham West and Penge.

Conlon is the only Labour MP who has ever been in a wheelchair and was one of the youngest people ever to have a hip replacement, having had an accident as a child which meant he couldn’t walk until he was 17.

He said: “Disabled people pay the same tax as everyone else, but they are fundamentally denied a service, and face economic and social exclusion as a result.

“I remember what it was like when I was 13 and I would go to the cinema with friends and they would get on the train or the tube and I couldn’t, because public services don’t work for disabled people.

“Unless you’ve got disabled people raising their voice, nothing will change.

“We need to hammer it home like ‘Violence against Women’s and Girls’ is constantly in the news – it needs to become another rallying point.

“No one’s expecting anything overnight, but there has to be action, and I’m now an MP who can advocate.”

Conlon and more than a thousand Labour volunteers had 40,000 one-on-one chats with constituents, and claimed that boundary changes – along with national and local anger at the Tories – contributed to their historic victory. 

Bromley is relatively wealthy with an average house price of £600,000, and an average age of 50, and had many voters going red for the first time. 

Conlon’s experience means that he is committed to being a voice not just for his area, but for those with disabilities. 

He has promised to revolutionise disabled access in Bromley within 100 days.

Bromley has the most train stations of any area of London, but only three of the 14 have disabled access. 

These only have disabled access one way, so you can go into London but not come back. 

Conlon said: “People want to get home as well.”

Bromley has one of the highest employment gaps for those differently abled.

Conlon has already brought Sadiq Khan and Louise Hague to visit the local stations, who were horrified by the facilities.

While they haven’t committed funds, they support his commitment to improving access. 

Conlon thinks that his experience with disability has made him more resilient and empathetic. 

He said: “You’re less fazed by things, I don’t need statistics to go into a room and not be able to access a certain room or a toilet.”

He pointed out that Bromley Civic Centre, where the count took place, has a lot of steps and no disabled access, meaning he would have been unable to attend in his youth.

Meanwhile Hannah Gray, the Conservative candidate, blamed national anger at the Tories for her loss. 

Gray said: “The people of Bromley aren’t fed up with local MPs, but with the national picture, and we need to listen to that.”

As a retired opera singer she stressed the importance of rejuvenating the arts in schools, but when challenged on the Conservative record of funding non-STEM subjects, she disassociated herself from the party. 

She said: “I just want to help, I’ve always been a Conservative but I’m just passionate about this local area, we need to listen as a party and change.”

She promised that the Conservatives would still be there for constituents and they weren’t going anywhere.

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