Shami Chakrabarti is known to most people as the director of Liberty, the civil rights organization. She has never stood as an MP but imagine the public uproar were she to announce she was a UKIP candidate at the forthcoming election.
Something very similar in principle that occurred last year, however, registered zero on the shock scale. Not a single voice of discontent was heard when Michelle Thew – pictured here – was chosen as the Labour candidate for the seat of Bexhill and Battle.
It’s a safe Tory seat and she is unlikely to win it but when I discovered she was a Labour candidate I was astonished. For many years she has been chief executive of the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV) which campaigns for an end to animal experiments.
Why on earth would anyone who has fought for laboratory animals and animal rights want to represent a party that stands for exactly the opposite? That’s where the comparison with Chakrabarti is valid. In fact it’s worse because at least UKIP makes some pretense of believing in human freedom, whereas for Labour the idea that animals have rights doesn’t even exist.
A few weeks ago the party made some pledges on animal welfare including ending the badger cull, retaining the Hunting Act and banning wild animals in circuses but mention of vivisection was conspicuous by its absence.
A lengthy examination of Labour’s record on animal issues will have to wait for another blog post but for now all I will say is its record is appalling. Before the 1997 election all sorts of promises were made to reduce and eventually end vivisection, especially alcohol, weapons and tobacco testing, but none were kept. Instead the number of animals used increased by about one million during the 13 years the party was in government.
It went even further in propping up the infamous Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory and criminalising those who campaigned against vivisection. Draconian laws were introduced which made minor public order offences and even civil torts punishable by up to five years imprisonment if they harmed a contract between a laboratory and its customers or suppliers. Conspiracy to blackmail was also used to punish activists with very long sentences.
The Labour government in effect declared war on anti-vivisectionists and here is the boss of one of the largest and oldest organizations that’s meant to stand up for laboratory animals joining its side.
In one respect this leaves me incredulous but in another it makes perfect sense. When I highlighted the story on Facebook, someone commented that it came as no surprise and it wouldn’t have been a shock even if Thew had gone over to Cancer Research UK or the British Heart Foundation.
That just about sums up the cynicism of grassroots activists towards big national societies. And let’s face it, the BUAV does have a track record here. Way back in the eighties it cozied up to Labour and got badly let down when the party supported the 1986 Animal Scientific Procedures Act – the Vivisectors Charter.
Most campaigners I know see the likes of the BUAV as bureaucratic and out of touch, trying vainly to influence politicians and capitalists instead of using their resources to fight vivisection in more direct and effective ways.
While it may come as little surprise to find out the boss of the BUAV has joined Labour, what about a hunt saboteur and vegan? Chris Williamson, the MP for Derby North is both, I am told. I looked at his website and he mentions neither but does say he is a trustee and former chair of the League Against Cruel Sports and believes in “animal welfare”. The hunt sab and vegan claim was mentioned on Facebook after I posted a piece about the ineffectiveness of the Hunting Act.
Whether Williamson is vegan is in doubt then but Labour already has Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East since 2005 and a vegan You may ask how anyone who espouses veganism and animal rights can represent a party which in government would do all it can to support animal farming? The answer is although McCarthy is a dietary vegan, she doesn’t believe in animal rights at all. At last year’s Bristol Vegfest she said she approved of some animal experiments.
When asking how individuals who claim to care about animal suffering want to get elected on the platform of a party which will do so much to further it, we shouldn’t forget the capacity of people to delude themselves. Perhaps the likes of Thew and others really think they can make a difference? Their retort might be, well better I’m there able to do something and can speak out for defenceless animals rather than somebody who doesn’t care at all.
But in reality they will chewed up and spat out by the system and made to conform. In return they will have a lavish income – even a backbench MP’s salary is nearly £70,000 per year – and the potential for even more if they become a minister or junior minister.
Like Joan Ruddock of CND who became an MP in the eighties when Labour’s policy was unilateral nuclear disarmament but was a minister when that policy was abolished and during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they will have to renounce their principles and be no more than a career politician whose job it is to maintain a system which mercilessly exploits animals and humans and is destroying the planet.