The Tories have never been keen on fighting wildlife crime. From the promised legalisation of fox hunting, through to the threatened closure and late reprieve for the National Wildlife Crime Unit in 2016, it seems clear that the Tories have an ambiguous attitude towards criminality where it concerns all types of wildlife.
Earlier this year, as part of INTERPOL’s global Operation Thunderbird, border force agents here made 182 seizures, including 11 kilos of ivory, 600,000 live eels, 74 live orchids, 13 reptile skin products and thousands of musical instruments containing endangered tree samples.
But there is no room for complacency. The RSPCA reports a rise in the incidence of cock-fighting. Britain was recently named as the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory, despite widespread calls for a complete ban on the entire trade. For the June general election the Tories also dropped their 2015 manifesto commitment to “press for a total ban on ivory sales”. Experts say the government licensing of this trade is fuelling global demand.
The stereotype of modern British politics is that Labour is the party of the cities while the Tories are the party of the shires and of rural England. If that were really true then it might be expected that it was the Tories who were more concerned with wildlife crime.
But stereotypes are rarely accurate. The Tories actually represent the interests of an elite, some whom have homes in both the city and the country, who want fox-hunting to return irrespective of the damage done to the countryside and the brutality of the so-called sport.
The key difference between Tories and Labour is not geography but values. The Tories are the party of reviving fox hunting, grammar schools, low taxes for the rich and private health care. This is a reactionary nostalgia for an imaginary, rose-tinted past. Labour values progress, fairness, equality and the power of collective endeavour. We really are for the many, not the few.
On wildlife crime, we want to tackle the injustices that are widespread, and the great harm that is being done. The National Wildlife Crime Unit is again living on borrowed time, its remit lasting only until 2020 despite its running cost amount to under £500,000 a year. Labour will put the Unit on a permanent footing so that it can plan its activities properly and recruit with some job security.
Labour’s plan to increase the number of border guards will also impact the international trade in prohibited species, which is a growing international menace. An increase in international co-operation of police forces to tackle this trade is needed. We are already pledged to introducing a total ban on the export of ivory. The badger cull will also end. It appears to be spreading bovine TB. We will outlaw the use of animals in circuses. Our aim is to build on the proud Labour legacy of banning fox hunting, hare coursing and deer hunting.
Farmers and rural communities must have greater protection from rural crime, including poaching and the rustling of livestock. One aim of the Labour plan to boost police officer numbers will be to increase police response times, which is a key concern for all rural communities.
All crime needs to be tackled, including wildlife crime. Labour is determined to succeed where the Tories have failed.
Diane Abbott is speaking at a LabourList-Unite event at party conference in Brighton. Ability, Gender, Race: a Party for all Britain is at 2.30-3.30 on the Tuesday of conference, in GB1 terrace room in The Grand hotel.