Labour and circus animals – hypocrisy and lies!

Five months to go to the general election when as good citizens we’ll be asked to put an X on a piece of paper and then be content to be ruled over and repressed for another five years.

Some progressively-minded people who want to end animal suffering are already calling for the election of a Labour government. True to form we’re also beginning to hear politicians making offers and promises in return for votes.

I’ll save a detailed history of Labour’s betrayal of the animal rights movement for another time and instead focus on one issue that’s in the news, the ban – or lack of one – on wild animals in circuses.

Today’s Guardian reported on the latest failed attempt at a ban and blamed three Tory backbenchers. While there’s no doubt these dinosaurs have showed contempt for the wshes of the overwhelming majority of people by scuppering a private members’ bill, what really struck me was Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, saying: “The British public will be outraged that, when given the opportunity, a determined group of Tories have repeatedly dug their heels in. The next Labour government will ban wild animals in circuses.”

Like all politicians, Eagle displays selective memory syndrome. She’s forgotten that when her party was in power for 13 years it did nothing to stop wild animals being abused and exploited for profit in circuses. In fact it did even worse than that because during the period from 1997-2010, many local authority bans on all performing animals were overturned.

One of the great success of the upsurge in grassroots animal rights activism in the eighties was that councils – usually left wing ones – prohibited circuses with animals from their land, as did the co-operative society. From the late nineties onwards those bans began to be rescinded as circuses like Zippos, which use “domesticated” animals such as horses and dogs, lobbied councillors on the basis they were not guilty of cruelty and were somehow educational.

Despite saying it would “aim for the highest standards of care for animals in circuses” in its New Labour New Life for Animals pamphlet before the 1997 election, Labour did nothing when in power for animals forced to endure the misery and humiliation of performing under the big top. Instead of a ban or even bringing circuses into line with zoos by applying the provisions of the Zoo Licensing Act (which it had promised to do), it kicked the issue into the long grass by prevaricating for years before employing the usual time waster so beloved of politicians – setting up a committee, namely the Circus Working Group.

This reported in 2007 that “”There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments.” In other words it wasn’t wrong to abuse animals in circuses if they were being abused elsewhere.

Sadly so-called animal rights campaigners like Jan Creamer of Animal Defenders International were naïve enough to join the CWG, thus giving it a veneer of respectability as an animal protection body, but even she was forced to concede it was “an utter waste of time and effort”. By contrast those who defended performing animals described the report as “the first day of what could be a very positive future for the circus industry.”

The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn claimed the government would “consider the report’s findings carefully” but nothing more was done while Labour was in power. Despite having 13 years in which to stop the abuse of animals in circuses – and even after the shocking expose of Mary Chipperfield and her husband Roger for animal cruelty offences in 1999 – they did nothing.

As the next election is on the horizon, Labour once again wants to con us into believing it cares about animals. They had their chance last time and blew it. Surely we won’t be fooled again?

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