As many of you know, I spent yesterday making sure that as many people as possible heard about the death of Karen Sherlock and the fear and exhaustion of her final months.
I did what a writer does. I wrote. Then I wrote again. I tweeted the great and the good, charities and politicians and I made them hear her story. But all through the madness of a story spreading around the world, I don't need to think. It's only when the messages slow down and the journalists stop calling that I face what the fury of writing tried so hard to soothe. Karen had died and I couldn't save her.
In the epic fight against the Welfare Reform Bill, we campaigners chose our weapons. Some polished the sword of truth to use against large corporations like Atos, responsible for so many of these terrible decisions that ruin lives. Some concentrated on the shields to protect the Independent Living Fund, others on exposing the lies of our politicians in parliament. Yet more dug up news stories and challenged social care cuts.
But I focused on Employment & Support Allowance and most specifically, Government plans to time limit sickness benefits for all but the most desperately ill or disabled to just one year. It's ironic that I came to be known for the Spartacus Report, exposing the myths behind Disability Living Allowance, because actually, it was not my greatest battle.
So, last night, exhausted and horribly deflated at the news that had had hovered over us all for so long, finally a reality - the death of one of our warriors - I suddenly felt enormously and helplessly angry.
I'd worked with Liberal Democrats for months to persuade them, oh so carefully to first hold a vote at their annual conference, and then to support it. I'd put aside my own politics at a time when few others would. Finally after months of planning, they pledged for
" Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA."
I won! Of course others were involved, but this was my very specific battle. I persuade the Liberal Democrats to oppose a policy that I knew would be dangerous, I knew would cost lives like Karen's
I can't tell you the excitement of that day. We won!! It was the first big breakthrough of our campaigning, the first time anyone stood with us, heard us, defended us. You can read about it here.
For months and months and months, I ran a campaign to lobby peers about the time limiting of contributory ESA. I don't know if anyone ever campaigned to peers in that way before. We emailed, we prepared briefings, we built relationships with individual peers we respected, we wrote endless articles and sent them in to parliament. We built spreadsheets to make it easier to contact peers when a particular issue cropped up. We pored over debates, we live tweeted every session of the Lords stages of the bill to make sure as many sick and disabled people saw democracy in action as possible, to hold peers to account.
And we won! We did it, we achieved what the media and the opposition failed to do or in most cases even tried to do. We won!!! We won every ESA vote in the Lords in a flurry of glory that left the mainstream media playing catch up. Do you remember Spartacii? Do you remember how it felt that day? We'd stayed calm and reasonable and intelligent. We'd put our case forensically, we'd pleaded and cajoled - some even begged. We'd built a database of last minute waverers and focused our efforts in the last few days on convincing them we fought for justice not special treatment. Do you remember? We did it.
And we won!!! We won for Karen and the 700,000 like her who would eventually lose all of their ESA under this most arbitrary of cruelties.
But I sat with my glass of wine last night and I wanted to scream out loud, to howl like a wounded animal "But we won!!" We beat you fair and square and you cheated."
Most of you reading will know that despite all of our work, our endless endurance, our David and Goliath resilience and belief, this Government cheated us. They cheated people like Karen.
They used the archaic convention of financial privilege to simply overrule the will of the Lords; they used their party whips to ignore the grassroots of the Liberal Democrat party, supposedly their coalition partners; they ignored every main charity and Disabled Persons Organisation and campaigner. They ignored their own Conservative peers who expressed doubts and concerns.
With arrogance and ignorance they simply abused their power and swept us aside.
Daily Karen asked me "Will we win Sue?" "Will we stop the time limit?" Frightened for her family and how they would survive. And I couldn't answer. I knew we should, that if there was even a scrap of justice left in our democracy we should be able to stop this nightmare, but I knew too, that a government that had lied and cheated their way through welfare reform were unlikely to ever back down.
Daily with a terrible, fragile hope in her tweets or emails, an urgency and a fear, Karen asked me "Will we win Sue?"
And days, even weeks after the bill had passed, she was still asking me "Surely we can still do something Sue? We won??" And I had to tell her gently, over and over that we'd won the battle but lost the war. We'd won the hearts of minds of those who mattered, but someone else had won their souls.
So Karen spent her last months fighting to escape the terror of the time limit, appealing, gathering "evidence" to prove what should have been as plain as day - she was ill and she needed our support.
And she won too. Just two weeks before her death she heard that she had appealed successfully. She had finally been put in the Support Group of ESA, meaning she would not be subjected to the time limit or forced to seek work she patently could not do.
Then she died. Again, it was too late. Again, the system had failed her. Again she was cheated. Cheated of the security she had fought so hard to win.
AND I DIDN'T WANT TO BE RIGHT.
When I warned and urged and pleaded, I didn't want to be right. I knew this would cost lives, or at the very least make them miserable and barely worth living.
When the welfare reform bill passed I warned politicians that time limiting ESA would be the single biggest issue come election time. It would haunt them, possibly haunt the Conservatives forever. An emblem of cruelty that really did cross the line of decency. I promised them that I would make sure of it.
And I will.