Now showing on the League Against Cruel Sports’ website is a little film celebrating the 90 year history of the organisation. What’s interesting about the film is not that it concentrates on what it sees as victories, but how it skips over certain events.
So, in the interest of fairness and balance, here are a few of the omissions.
But first, has anyone ever wondered why the Labour Party has such an obsession with banning hunting with dogs and why so many senior members listen to the League Against Cruel Sports, apparently accepting whatever it says almost without question? The answer lies in a series of events omitted from the film.
Shortly before the general election in 1979, the League made a donation of £80,000 to the Labour Party. A ban on hare coursing and deer hunting had been included in its manifesto. Of the amount given, £30,000 was for the promotion of animal welfare and £50,000 for general funds. The move outraged some Conservative voting members of the League who started a legal action to have the monies returned. By sheer coincidence the case concluded less than a month before the 1983 general election and the court ordered that as the £50,000 given for general party use had been outside the League’s objectives, it had to be returned plus interest of a further £25,000… and all this in the run-up to the 1983 polling day.
The late Richard Course, then executive director of the LACS and a Labour councillor, was furious and promised to give, “more than £100,000 to the Labour Party” in recognition of the party’s pledge to ban hunting. This was duly done through payments to individual constituency parties and all that was required was a line about improving animal welfare inserted in one of the election leaflets of the respective candidate. The process was repeated for the 1987 general election, but the actual details of both series of payments were deliberately concealed within the League’s annual accounts under the heading of general ‘political campaigning’.
Further problems had arisen in 1983. Before the court ruling, the League had ordered the printing of 6 million campaigning leaflets for the Labour Party, but with only 2 million referring to animal welfare. The other 4 million had already been distributed, but were now not permitted to be funded by the LACS. The whole fiasco nevertheless cost the LACS £14,000.
Yet those in charge of the League still saw the money as being well spent. What is interesting are the names of the candidates in the local parties that received these donations – names that will be familiar to many as some of the most vociferous anti-hunt MPs: Alun Michael, Gerald Kaufman, Peter Hain, Tony Benn, Paul Flynn, Graham Allen, John Denham, Roy Hattersley, Hilary Benn and the list goes on.
The 1980s was a period when the League and the Labour Party cemented their relationship. Exactly how much money was given to the Labour Party by various means during this time will probably never be known. However, it all turned sour when Richard Course was forced to leave the League following his unruly behaviour. He wrote to the Department of Trade and Industry saying that political candidates had been funded without the knowledge of LACS’ members and that accounts had been faked to conceal the transactions. The subsequent investigation by the DTI certainly revealed wrong-doing, but appeared to point the finger at Mr Course himself.
During those years the League was almost seen as an off-shoot of the Labour Party, with committee members, president, vice-presidents and staff members pretty much exclusively Labour supporters. No criticism of the party was allowed in the League’s journal. Attendance at the Labour Party conference was a priority, with little or no attempt to attend other political party events.
When I became executive director of the League in 1988 I tried to change that ethos and certainly no money was given to any political party during my time. Nevertheless, many committee members were determined not to allow the organisation to widen its political appeal. “No bastard Tories on this committee” was a comment I distinctly recall being made at a committee meeting when a Conservative MP’s name was put forward as a possible vice-president.
While it’s clear that there are Labour supporters who see the anti-hunting campaign by their party as divisive and possibly costly in terms of rural votes, many do not see it that way and cling to simplistic class war-type views. It’s only when detailed questions on the validity of the Hunting Act and the party’s position in defending it are raised that the cracks show and the hypocrisy becomes apparent.
Why is it that the Labour Party leadership seems not to be able to see this, just as it can’t see the anomaly in the League’s position regarding the recent proposal to make the Hunting Act in England and Wales the same as the ban in Scotland? Does it not see the duplicity in the praising one law while condemning the moves that would create the same law south of the border? Why does the Labour Party play the same point scoring game as the League in pretending that such a move was “repeal by the back door” when they and the LACS know full well that the process of a statutory instrument cannot overturn the original purpose of an Act? Why does it not support the eminently sensible proposal from Labour Peer and former minister Lord Donoughue to make genuine cruelty to all wild mammals a criminal offence? Why does the Labour Party use the same child-like language as the LACS – “We love animals and want to save them, you just kill them for sport” - in demonising those who are engaged in wildlife management and wish to use selective scenting hounds in that process? What, indeed, does the Labour Party accept as being the best way to achieve healthy wildlife populations? Once again, just like the LACS, we know what they dislike, but hear precious little about what they support.
Has the League reverted back to its old ways? There are some who would say it has and in more ways than one. This might explain why the relationship between the Labour Party and the League Against Cruel Sports, despite the latter now being a charity and thereby non-party political, appears to be a little too cosy.