Forget the soap opera, let’s get back to policy, starting with animal welfare

26th September, 2016 6:45 pm


With Labour conference in full swing, one of the traps we need to beware of is treating politics as soap opera. Will Jeremy and Owen be friends again? Can Angela return? Does Hilary have secret plans? It all makes wonderful media copy, but it omits the crucial aspect of politics: what do we actually want to do for our society?

So one of our key tasks after this week’s dramas will be to wrest the discussion back onto policy. Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch. From economic policy to education and housing, a good deal of work has been going on.

A contribution to this is a 12-page animal protection draft programme which is being presented at conference. Back in 1997, Labour won support from people who had never voted Labour before with the “New Life for Animals” manifesto, which led to an end to fur farming in Britain, significant improvements in the protection of farm animals, the ban on using animals to test cosmetics, the Animal Welfare Act and the Hunting Act. So early this year, I approached Jeremy and Kerry McCarthy, then shadow Environment Secretary, with Michelle Thew, Labour’s PPC for Bexhill and Battle and CEO for Cruelty Free International, and we agreed to prepare a new ground-breaking animal welfare draft.

In the intervening months, we’ve consulted numerous groups with an interest in the area, including traditional animal welfare groups like the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming and campaign-centred organisations like Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports, and set out proposals which will significantly improve the position of animals while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of easily-parodied ideas that wouldn’t gain popular support. Proposals include:

  • A crackdown on puppy and kitten farming
  • Help for elderly people who need to go into care and are faced with giving up their pets
  • Ending factory farming of birds and environmentally destructive land draining on shooting estates
  • Tightening the Hunting Act and cracking down on dog-fighting
  • Guaranteeing funding for the wildlife crime units threatened by Tory cuts
  • Restricting airgun ownership
  • Capping the number of animal experiments that can be licenced each year with a gradual reduction in the cap
  • Mandatory labelling of meat to show country of origin, means of production and method of slaughter, helping consumers to choose the most humane approaches

The draft has been welcomed by Rachael Maskell, the shadow Environment Secretary, as well as by Sarah Champion, the shadow Home Office minister responsible for animal experiment legislation. Michelle and I will present it at the Labour Animal Welfare Society fringe tonight Monday (7pm at the Adelphi, Ranelagh Street), and we hope to meet many Labour List readers there. It will then go into the normal policy process, and we’ll be seeking endorsements from MPs, CLPs and others.

For any particular area of policy, there is always a counter-argument that something else matters more: “Why are you worrying about this when you could be solving something else?” But it’s the hallmark of a national party that we are able to deal with the entire range of government policy at once. This is one contribution towards making up the party’s mosaic of progressive policy, and we hope it will also serve as a model for initiatives in many other fields.

In the end, Labour won’t be judged by soap opera criteria. We’ll be judged by whether we can effectively make our world a better, kinder place.

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe from 1997 to 2010 and the PPC for Broxtowe in 2015. You can contact him for the full policy draft on [email protected]

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