This article was originally written days before the 2015 general election to accompany a similar one on Labour and the working class. Due to technical difficulties it never appeared. I intended to wait until the next election to publish it but following the EU referendum and Labour’s crisis over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, many activists have been saying on social media that they have joined the party, among them animal rights campaigners. Now seems to be the right time to explain Labour’s long history of betrayal of animals in laboratories, in farms, on hunting fields and elsewhere. Though this reached its apotheosis with New Labour under Tony Blair, it really goes back almost to the party’s birth over 100 years ago. Labour cannot be trusted to protect animals and here’s why
Yesterday’s article showed how during its history the Labour Party has betrayed the very people it was set up to represent, the working class. This election is no different. Many of those supporting Miliband, however, are saying Labour will protect animals, especially badgers and foxes, unlike the Tories.
So what is Labour’s record on animal protection or welfare? Here I will examine what it’s done in the past and then look at the pledges it has made this time around.
Almost from the start, Labour has been viewed as the party most likely to help animals. According to Animal rights by Hilda Kean, “The Animal Defence League lobbied…with little success, the1924 Labour government to strengthen slaughterhouse reform.”
In 1929 Labour was in power again but despite the fact the prime minister, Ramsay McDonald and four cabinet ministers were founder vice presidents of the World League Against Vivisection, they could not guide a bill outlawing experiments on dogs through parliament.
That was a minority administration but in 1945 Labour had a massive majority and could do what it liked. Two private member’s bills against hunting with hounds were introduced but rather than back them, the government appointed a pro-hunting committee including a Master of Foxhounds. Unsurprisingly its report barely criticised the practice. Again under Labour, private member’s bills banning hare coursing failed in 1969 and 1976.
As the animal rights movement grew in the eighties, Labour came courting. The party had moved to the left in opposition and for a time it appeared to take animal protection seriously. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) even had a red rosette on the front page of The Liberator for the 1983 election.
The BUAV had close ties with members of Islington’s Labour council and expected the parliamentary party to oppose the Tories’ new legislation on animal testing, dubbed the Vivisectors’ Charter. It didn’t and only 20 MPs voted against it.
By 1997 Labour’s long period in opposition was coming to an end. A few months before the May election it produced the notorious pamphlet new Labour, new Britain, new life for Animals, which promised: “Labour is the only party with carefully researched policies and the political will to carry them out.”
Thousands of copies were mailed to campaigners and it was generally believed the party would carry out its pledges. In fact its manifesto devoted just six lines to animal welfare and affirmed its “long-standing commitment to angling” but that wasn’t widely read.
In government, Labour proved a huge disappointment. In March 2000 Justice and Freedom for Animals, a group based in Brighton, produced a booklet called Pledges and Replies which examined the 62 promises made in the New Life for Animals booklet and replies received from the government.
Every answer was analysed and the damning verdict was: “Few, if any, stand up as being of positive benefit to the animals concerned, when it comes to taking any particular issue forward. They are full of prevarication, often bordering on deceit, and most do not actually answer the original one-line question.”
Those who advocate voting Labour point to the abolition of fur farming and the Hunting Act 2004 as justification. New life for animals claimed Labour would abolish fur farming “as soon as practicable” but in reality it was another six years. Meanwhile a private members bill to ban fur farming failed due to lack of time in 1998 and the same year a new fur farm in West Yorkshire was granted a licence.
Despite the ban, the fur trade didn’t suffer. The farmers were given £20m compensation and some relocated overseas. There are now more retail fur outlets than 15 years ago and one of the main reasons is the Protection from Harassment Act. In the late nineties the Labour government advised the fur trade on how to use this Act to stifle protest.
New life for animals stated: “Labour is strongly opposed to the so-called sport of hunting with hounds…the only party with a long-standing commitment to have a free vote in the House of Commons to ban it.” In a letter just two weeks before the election, Tony Blair went even further and promised parliamentary time for a bill if it was passed by a free vote in the Commons.
The first private members bill, introduced by Labour MP Michael Foster to ban hunting with hounds, received an overwhelming majority on its first reading. Despite Labour’s promise to provide extra time it was talked out. Blair and co caved in to pressure from the bloodsports movement in the form of the Countryside Alliance.
The Hunting Act was finally passed in November 2004 after much prevarication. Supporters hailed it as protecting foxes, stags, hares and other wildlife though it does nothing of the sort. The first clue comes with the name; it isn’t called Prohibition of Hunting or Abolition of Hunting. The Act is what it says: a piece of legislation to permit regulated hunting.
Hunting with hounds is banned under most circumstances with certain exemptions, such as to flush out foxes or if the hunt uses a bird of prey. But wild animals are accorded no protection when it comes to shooting or being pursued on foot or horseback. Those who framed the Act constantly referred to foxes as “vermin” that needed to be controlled.
There is a widespread feeling that what’s wrong with the Act is a lack of enforcement. That’s true. Since it became law in 2005 there hasn’t been a single prosecution in the whole of Cornwall and Devon, two of the most hunted counties in the UK. Hunt monitors and saboteurs say it’s business as usual for the majority of hunts.
But even if the law was rigorously implemented, it wouldn’t prevent organised hunts pursuing and shooting foxes, etc. Therefore the Act doesn’t protect wild animals at all. It’s also worth remembering that Northern Ireland is exempt so the bloodsports brigade – for example hare coursers – have simply gone across the Irish Sea to continue their grisly pastime there.
The act is a testament to how badly legislation can fail animals when it’s drafted within a welfarist framework instead of an abolitionist one based on animal rights. The last thing governments of all political persuasions want to do is grant rights to animals.
Labour’s 2010 manifesto had nothing at all to say about animal issues but now the party has been in opposition again, they have issued a policy document called Labour: protecting animals. The most striking thing about it is the poverty of ambition. New life for animals contained 62 promises covering every aspect of animal protection, whereas this one has just six.
They are: 1) defend the hunting ban; 2) banning wild animals in travelling circuses 3) end badger culls and put scientific evidence at the heart of policy; 4) review the inadequate regulations on the sale and breeding of dogs and cats; 5) undertake an independent review on reducing animal suffering on shooting estates; 6) “lead international efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime…push to end all commercial whaling, and prevent the poaching and near extinction of endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.”
The hunting “ban” has already been dealt with. Defending something which is toothless and doesn’t work isn’t good enough. Even Labour Party lapdogs, the League Against Cruel Sports, are calling for a strengthening of the Act but Miliband’s government won’t do that.
Labour had 13 years to ban wild animals in circuses and failed. New Life for Animals said the Zoo Licensing Act should apply to circuses and “if circuses cannot comply with its welfare standards, they should not be allowed to keep caged animals.”
Instead of doing this, the issue was kicked 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 welfare of animals in travelling circuses is no better or worse “than that of animals kept in other captive environments
For a detailed look at Labour’s betrayal of circus animals see: https://network23.org/redblackgreen/2014/12/05/labour-hypocrites-at-it-again-dont-believe-their-lies/
Its promise to end the badger cull has is the main reason why many people are voting Labour. Labour: protecting animals admits the party spent 10 years and £50m on a “field trial” which is just a euphemism for a cull. Thousands of badgers were killed between 1998-2005 and animal rights activists attempted to sabotage the culls just as they have done in the last two years. New life for Animals said: “Labour is against the killing of badgers and destruction of their setts…We will, furthermore, conduct a full review of the question of badgers and bovine TB, and put an immediate stop to badger culling pending the outcome of that review.”
The review never happened, Labour took the dairy industry’s side and within 18 months of gaining office went ahead with a disastrous cull based on MAFF’s “strong, circumstantial evidence that badger’s transmit TB to cattle”. This was described as a “futile attempt to control an expensive and complex farming issue: by the National Federation of Badger Groups and as a result 11,000 badgers died needlessly. Now we are asked to take Labour at its word again.
Labour doesn’t say it will ban breeding and sale of cats and dogs, merely that “inadequate regulations” will be reviewed. As we know from previous reviews (badgers, circus animals) this can mean very little. The party had 13 years to tackle animal suffering caused by the pet trade and did nothing. Labour also says it will build on its “landmark” Animal Welfare Act “to develop a strategy which brings together improved dog and cat welfare”.
The Animal Welfare Act is far from being a landmark. It’s a flawed statute that doesn’t even ban the sale of goldfish at fairs. Its powers are regularly flouted. For instance those responsible for animals must take steps to ensure they are “protected from pain, suffering [and] injury” but this happens every day the length and breadth of Britain, from horseracing to intensive farming.
Labour’s next pledge is to “reduce animal cruelty” on shooting estates. Notice it only says “reduce” not eliminate. The only way to do that would be prohibiting the shooting of birds but it would never do that. The last Labour government offered vocal support for “gamebird” shooting as a way of appeasing the ruling class following the Hunting Act.
In its 2005 Charter for Shooting it said: “As a political party we want to go much further than merely promising not to restrict shooting. We want to actively encourage people to take up the sports and to develop policies under which they can develop and prosper.” Even animal welfare minister Ben Bradshaw wrote of the “huge benefits shooting brings to the countryside” and promised to “liberalise the game shooting laws and licensing laws”. Unlike so many of the promises in New life for animals, this one was kept.
Under Labour the shooting industry grew massively with over 40 million pheasants and partridges intensively reared every year so they can be released and shot down for sport. As part of that process, scores of thousands of breeding birds are confined in metal cages for the whole of their lives. This could have been prohibited by a new code of practice in 2009 but the government arranged for shooting industry representatives to dominate the working group that wrote the code.
Eventually Labour decided in 2010 to initiate a code of practice that would have effectively outlawed battery cages but they left it too late and the scheme was scrapped by the Tories after the general election. It would’ve been far harder to overturn had it been put in place earlier.
The final pledge in Labour: protecting animals is to “lead international efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime” and to fight commercial whaling and the trade in endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.
Promises like these were made in New life for animals but not acted on. In fact the Justice and Freedom for Animals report’s conclusion was: “After declaring their concern to over 60 animal abuses through their 1997 pre-election leaflet, New Labour new life for animals, this government’s response has been pathetic, to say the least, and in reality downright dishonest.”
Finally I would like to mention two vast areas of animal cruelty that are notable by their absence from Labour’s latest document: animal experiments and animal farming. These issues cause huge public concern and have traditionally been extremely controversial to say the least. Yet according to Labour they are of no importance whatsoever. That they are not even mentioned speaks volumes for the party’s lack of concern over cruelty to animals.
Many promises were made in relation to farmed and laboratory animals in New life for animals and nearly all of them weren’t kept. These included a new emphasis on improved husbandry and less intensive production, outlawing de-beaking of poultry, closing loopholes that allowed the routine tail-docking and tooth-clipping of pigs, higher welfare standards for farm animals and improved welfare at slaughter, and the banning of calves destined for veal crates.
One of the most infamous pledges regarding vivisection was support for a Royal Commission “to review the effectiveness and justification of animal experiments and to examine alternatives.” This was quickly dropped despite the publicity surrounding Barry Horne’s hunger strikes. Promises to ban the LD50 test, weapons research on animals and testing for alcohol and tobacco were dropped as was the commitment to the three Rs – reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in laboratories – since the number of animals used went up every year but one Labour was in power. One promise was kept: not to license cosmetics testing on animals.
The record of Labour towards animals, both in opposition and power, is a catalogue of shame. It’s a story of promises and pledges unfulfilled. The party has said almost anything to win votes from compassionate people who want to end animal cruelty and has then ignored, watered down or deceitfully misled its supporters. Time and time again it has sided with vested interests and the ruling class against defenceless animals and the animal rights movement itself.
Labour even went so far as declaring war on animal rights, especially anti-vivisectionists, whilst in power. In 2005 new laws were brought in specifically targeting people campaigning against laboratories using animals. Many people have been sent to prison for trivial offences as a result and conspiracy and blackmail laws have also been used to imprison activists for up to 12 years. A special body was set up to criminalise protest, the National Extremist Tactical Co-ordination Unit, which labelled animal rights activists as “domestic extremists”.
As a consequence of Labour’s bullyboy tactics, the animal rights movement is far more subdued than it used to be. The Labour Party obviously thinks we have forgotten and can be deceived once more but let’s show Miliband and his cronies we won’t be fooled again.
Why Labour can’t be trusted: 1) the working class