Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
Yesterday the Labour Party launched a consultation on an ‘Animal Welfare Plan’ which says that it will “make sure that the UK has equal and better animal rights across the world (sic)”. This conflation of animal welfare and animal rights is backed up by a list of proposed policies which lurch from the sensible, to the populist, to the prejudiced.
In the end what shines through is not a coherent approach to improving the welfare of animals, although some of the proposals might achieve that, but a dog whistle appeal to the metropolitan Labour base. In particular Labour’s focus on wildlife and the countryside remains firmly motivated by partisan politics, rather than in supporting farming and rural communities, or addressing real animal welfare issues.
The politics of this approach, as well as some of the policies themselves, are deeply questionable as some Labour MPs understand. After the 2015 General Election then Shadow Defra Secretary Maria Eagle commissioned a report entitled ‘Labour’s Rural problem’ which found that “the perception problems are huge – not just rural voters’ perception of Labour, but more crucially Labour’s perception of rural voters”. In the 2017 election Labour again performed worse in rural seats than it did in urban ones yet it seems set on an agenda which is almost designed to alienate many rural people.
Of course there is the obligatory attack on hunting. Despite the Hunting Act being such an achievement of which the Labour Party is so proud it apparently needs to waste even more parliamentary time on radical surgery. ‘Loopholes’ need to be closed and the Act needs to be ‘strengthened’. Meanwhile, there is also a direct attack on shooting with a pledge to ban “the intensive rearing of gamebirds for shooting”. What this means is anyone’s guess, but given that game rearing is already regulated through the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it must signal significant restrictions which would have a direct impact on all of us who shoot reared game.
As important as what is in the ‘plan’, however, is what is not in it. It reveals a set of priorities that are at odds with most people in rural areas not just because of attacks on hunting and shooting, but because it absolutely ignores most of the pressing animal welfare issues that are important to people in the countryside and beyond. There is not a single mention in the ‘plan’ of the epidemic of sheep worrying by domestic dogs, the widespread problems of poaching and associated criminality, the impact of sky lanterns on domestic and wild animals, or the horrific cost to cattle, farmers and the taxpayer of bovine TB. Pledging to “end the badger cull” is one thing, but doing so without even acknowledging that bTB exists is another entirely.
We will, of course, respond to the consultation and hope that it will be open and engage with a much wider set of views. It is, however, a great shame both for the countryside and the Labour Party that it has started from here.
Follow me at @CA_TimB