I know I’ve used it before, but the quotation by American writer Henry L. Mencken is well worth repeating; “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”
With a general election only a few weeks away and with the outcome less predictable than anyone can remember, simplicity seems to be the order of the day. For some, short one liners that are designed to stick in the mind of the public, rather than detailed arguments reflecting the complexity of many issues, are the way to go.
There were some excellent examples of this tactic being employed in these final few days of this parliament. MPs are being bombarded with e-mails wanting to know how they would vote on a variety of animal welfare matters, all designed to give the impression that the answer may mean success or failure at election time. The reality is that the next government will not be chosen on how good or bad it appears to be on animal issues.
Despite this, it’s quite depressing how many people involved in welfare groups, and indeed those who should know better, still reduce their arguments down to the lowest level. Maybe they feel the public can only take in a certain amount of information or maybe it’s because they know that issues not directly affecting most members of the public can be portrayed in a totally untruthful manner if that means achieving a desired outcome. It’s probably a mixture of both.
But difficulties come, as Mencken rightly says, when complex issues are addressed by simplistic measures. For all the nonsense spoken about hunting being nothing more than ‘killing for fun’ and the ludicrous claims that the Hunting Act is good law, the fact is there has only been a handful of hunts successfully prosecuted and some of those were for technical, not animal welfare, offences. Numerous attempts by the anti-hunting groups to prosecute hunt staff have often failed at the last moment, resulting in months of anxious waiting by the individuals accused, wasting many thousands of pounds in the process and with this cost often being borne by the taxpayer. The latest case against the Cattistock Hunt, brought by the RSPCA and based on “evidence” supplied by IFAW, failed just this week. The full costs are unknown at present.
The whole situation is a mess. The Hunting Act is claimed to be good legislation, which is an odd statement given that its supporters now want to see it strengthened. Self-appointed people who ‘monitor’ hunts see breaches of this flawed law at every turn, consequently wasting police, CPS and court time and even more money trying to bring prosecutions.
It’s such a ridiculous piece of legislation that even those MPs who oppose hunting find it hard to remember what it actually does. Here’s what Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said to Environment secretary Liz Truss last week in the House of Commons, “Instead of proposing yet more cruelty to animals, why will she not look at extending the Act to grouse shooting and hare coursing, which also are cruel and hugely opposed in this country?” Organised hare coursing was banned by the Hunting Act in 2004.
If MPs don’t understand hunting (or indeed even the legislation they passed!) it’s no wonder they have to portray it in simplistic and untruthful terms. The distaste some people, including parliamentarians, have for hunting appears to know no bounds. At the last general election, I attended a meeting for all candidates in the Kate Hoey’s constituency of Vauxhall. Kate was the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance at the time and an anti-hunt candidate had decided to stand against her. In a wide range of questions put to all the candidates, our anti friend managed to twist his answers into blaming hunting for all that is wrong with the world, even to the point of claiming that climate change is caused by hunting people diving around in powerful 4×4 vehicles. He didn’t win and Kate’s majority rose.
Such blinkered views are not always prevented from entering parliament. Chris Williamson is the MP for Derby North and a committee member of the League Against Cruel Sports. He’s someone I’ve known and worked with for many years in LACS and while our paths took us in different directions regarding the hunting issue, I expected his argument in respect of bovine TB and the badger cull to be slightly less blinkered. I shouldn’t have been so naïve.
According to Chris, the badger cull has nothing to do with curbing bovine TB, but has everything to do with people who just want to cause “unnecessary suffering” – his words, not mine – to badgers. He argues that the whole culling process has not worked and has been enthusiastically sanctioned by hunt supporters in the government. Quite what fun might be had by these blood-lusting government ministers when a marksman many miles away shoots a badger at night was not explained, but obviously someone somewhere was delighted at the prospect of an animal dying in pain. At least that was the reason in Chris’ mind.
Once again, we see a complex and difficult situation reduced down to a level that that not only dismisses the seriousness of this disease, but denigrates those involved in tackling it. In fact, it is not true to say that the badger culls have not worked, but more on that in a later blog.
The one thing that antis seem to have learned very well is “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”…and I think most people know who said that.