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Archive for October, 2011

It says something about an organisation when those it employs start to dispense with the arguments central to its campaign and instead seek to attack, denigrate or ridicule in any way possible others who hold different views.

The danger in following such a route is that it can become all-consuming and slowly take over as the prime reason for that group’s existence. Any way to make the opposition look foolish or cowardly is justified and any admission of being wrong is certainly out of the question.  It would seem that this is the low point the League Against Cruel Sports has now reached.

Two days ago I wrote an article No debate? Then fabricate to denigrate stating how the League had invented a story about a Central ITV debate, which had been cancelled due to other stories that needed to be covered. Nothing to do with a Countryside Alliance person being scared to debate as the League claimed or, as they childishly put it, being “Big Chickens or Scaredy Cats”.  (Yes, that really is how they speak… and they say they’re a professional organisation)

Even with an e-mail from the ITV news editor clearly stating the logistical reason for pulling the item, the League refused to apologise for their error, citing an oddly-worded comment from an ITV reporter. True to form, League officials then embarked upon an outpouring of sarcastic and juvenile taunts.

Perhaps the following e-mails now received from the News Editor and the Planning Editor might just put an end to this silly saga:

James – it was down to an editorial decision taken by Lisa, our News Editor, that other stories were happening and she simply couldn’t resource. This came from a detailed discussion in our meeting.
Regards

Tom Lowe, Planning Editor ITV (28th October 2011) 

and

Jim, I was news editor on the day and we decided not to go with the story due to other news items we wished to cover. Please don’t feel there was any conspiracy about covering your story. It is a simple fact of the news industry that sometimes even when a lot of work has been done to set up an item we have to stand that item down due to other pressures. I understand Emily informed you of this.

Thank you

Lisa

Lisa McCarthy, Web Producer ITV (28th October 2011)

I fail to see how this situation could be made clearer and yet neither can I see those currently employed by the LACS changing their ways and being professional enough to apologise. Their eagerness to malign those with a different view is far too strong. What’s their next headline on the League blog, “Hunt Master gets parking ticket?”

Of course all this is an irrelevancy in the main debate about hunting and the way we manage our wildlife and many will understandably say let it pass. However, it is an indication of just how petty and small-minded League employees can be. They refuse to back-down even in the face of what is blindingly obvious to everyone else.

Little wonder, therefore, that the League is in denial about the flaws in their badly drafted Hunting Act and are now trying to draft in the public to report to their “Hunt Crimewatch Hotline’ incidents of hunts breaking the law. “This is the seventh hunting season under the ban, but all the  evidence suggests that hunts are getting more lawless than ever.” says Joe  Duckworth, the League’s chief executive. “Appointing investigations officers  around the country will enable us to increase our efforts in gathering evidence  for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.”  Amazing. If there is evidence suggesting hunts are breaking the law, why doesn’t the League prosecute them now instead of clogging up the workloads of the police and the CPS and wasting public money?

The fact is those employed by the League don’t understand hunting and interpret the Hunting Act in their own peculiar way, so how is it that members of the the public will be able to get it right?

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Yesterday the Countryside Alliance sent out a detailed press release to coincide with the official start of the foxhunting season. It rightly referred to the fact that the Hunting Act has caused a large amount of police time to be wasted, that animal welfare has been made worse and that the vast majority of successful prosecutions under this law have been for poaching offences.

As one would expect, this prompted numerous press enquiries, one of which came from Central ITV requesting a debate on the issues raised by the release. Both the Alliance and League Against Cruel Sports were contacted to take part, but subsequently the debate was cancelled. Then today an article appeared on the LACS website:

“Ever heard the joke about the pressure group that put out a press release, got a major broadcaster interested and then turned down the press opportunity because they were too frightened to debate an animal welfare charity?” It goes on to quote the LACS chairman, barrister John Cooper as saying, “My ITV debate on Hunting cancelled as Alliance withdraw from debating with me. I thought they like bloodsports.” And just to rub some salt in the wound, the article adds, … they pulled out. They actually pulled out of their own press opportunity.”

Referring to my last blog, the League mockingly says, “Barrington blogged, “So why not a ‘grownup debate’ on the… Hunting Act?  Why not a ‘grownup debate’ on the alternatives to hunting?… Why not a ‘grownup debate’ on a wild mammals welfare law?”

Well Jim, you might want to ask your Countryside Alliance paymasters those questions. I’m sure even you can appreciate how hard it is to engage in ‘grownup debate’ with an organisation that won’t even debate its own press releases. Oh and while you’re doing that perhaps you can you use your animal welfare credentials to help me out because I can’t work out whether the Alliance are big chickens or scaredy cats.”

http://www.league.org.uk/blogs_entry.aspx?id=670

I couldn’t understand why no one was willing to take part. I certainly would have relished debating with the League’s chairman, as I have on previous occasions. What an embarrassment for the Countryside Alliance…or rather it would be if it were true.

The facts of the matter are that while Central ITV did indeed cancel the news item, it was due to other news stories overtaking the hunting story – as can be seen from the e-mail I received from the ITV editor in reply to my enquiry:

JB: In talking to your colleague today, he informed me that the sole reason this item was cancelled by you (or someone else in ITV) was due to your resources being needed elsewhere to cover other stories. Further, he said that it was not the case that the item was pulled due to no one from the Countryside Alliance being willing to take part.

ITV: Yes this is the case. We were keen to do the story yesterday but due to other stories breaking I’m afraid we had to pull the story.

 

Despite contacting the League and informing them of this statement, they have so far steadfastly refused to apologise for their blatantly untruthful article. No doubt there will be League supporters who will also refuse to believe the truth in this matter, as can be seen from their comments on Twitter, but to the reasonable observer this will surely be seen as an organisation abusing its role as animal welfare campaigners. Denigrating the opposition would seem to be far more important than improving animal welfare.

The title of this fabricated story is “You couldn’t make it up”. The trouble is that’s exactly what the League Against Cruel Sports did.

 

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Some time ago, the League Against Cruel Sports’ chairman was asked this question about the Hunting Act on the BBC, “Is it your contention that the law needs strengthening?” Echoing Tony Blair’s mantra on education, John Cooper replied, “The law doesn’t need strengthening at all. The law works perfectly well. The issue is enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.” 

So the only thing wrong with the Hunting Act is that it is not being properly enforced, is it? This does not sit easily with other pronouncements from the League, in which they make clear their opposition to “killing for sport”, hunting wild mammals with dogs and terrier work. All these activities, in one form or another, are still legal under the Hunting Act, so how does the League reconcile these two positions? It was this question I put to the League’s new chief executive, Joe Duckworth, at a fringe meeting during this year’s Conservative conference, which was jointly organised by the League and the group Conservatives against Foxhunting.

It was a slightly strange affair, given that the pro-hunting audience outnumbered the anti-hunt organisers about 4:1 and the very fact that I was even allowed in (I was barred  from last year’s event) let alone permitted to ask a question was surprising.  However, no clear answer was given at the time, but what do we see on Twitter the next day?

LeagueJoe

Great fringe at #CPC11.
Well done @BlueFoxCAFH.
A riot of hunters turned up. Easily quelled. Ooh questions from bloke with a tash!

and…

LeagueSteve

Highlight of fringe tho was @jimbarrington
telling me I’m immature. *sticks tongue out and waves fingers on end of nose*

 

Is this really the way a supposedly professional organisation should act? To observers of the hunting debate, or indeed many of the other arguments concerning animal welfare or animal rights, it must seem that one side can be just as bad as the other. In some cases that may be true, but the League’s reactions to reasonable questions indicate that they would rather mock and insult instead of engaging in a mature debate. It would be interesting to know if MPs and the media are fully aware of the League’s way of working.

Oddly, though, when the finger is pointed at the League, the reaction is one of outrage. In its weekly newsletter, the Countryside Alliance had argued that in having someone dressed up as a badger to deliver a petition against the possible badger cull, the League “both trivialises and ignores the plight of farmers up and down the country.” Not an unreasonable statement given the severity of the situation, yet the League thought it “disrespectful” to them…being a charity. Interestingly, while the Alliance mentioned the plight of farmers, the slaughtering of tens of thousands of cattle and the enormous cost to the public purse, it also talks of the suffering of the infected badgers too, while the League article fails to even mention this sad fact.

Back to the ‘disrespectful’ point. The League goes on to complain, “…these statements are nothing more than vindictive attacks on a charity rather than having a grownup debate on the substantive issue at hand.” So why not a “grownup debate” on the inconsistencies of the Hunting Act?  Why not a “grownup debate” on the alternatives to hunting that have now filled the vacuum? Why not a “grownup debate” on a wild mammals welfare law based on evidence, not prejudice and pseudo morality?

The phrase “rule for one and a rule for another” springs to mind. League officials don’t mind making all sorts of insulting and childish remarks about people who hold opposing views, but there again why should they mind? They know that most people who oppose hunting with hounds hardly give the issue a second thought, other than they don’t like it. The League knows full well that simplistic public opinion polls with leading questions will give them exactly the answers they want. They also know that most anti-hunting  people will never examine the detail of the Hunting Act and won’t ever see the blatantly illogical and unprincipled offences it creates – technical offences that don’t just fail to improve animal welfare, but actually make it worse. That’s why MPs who voted for the Hunting Act run a mile when you try to raise the matter with them.

Why would any anti hunt person want a “grownup debate” about all of that?

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Dazed and confused

The comments by the BBC’s Autumnwatch presenter and naturalist Chris Packham concerning the control of deer caused eyebrows to be raised in some quarters. Partly, it was what he said and partly, I would suggest, it was the way he said it.

Packham told the Radio Times, “The deer population in the UK, many would argue, is way too great. We have to cull deer because there are no natural predators.” He goes on to say, “We have to play a proactive role and that means killing things. People come to shoot near where I live and they ask me where the deer are and I tell them ‘the deer are over here – go and blast’.”

Animal rights groups were naturally outraged, but the response from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has been noticeably quiet. Perhaps this is because Chris Packham is (or maybe was) a League supporter. In essence, he is right of course. There is estimated to be 1½ million deer in the UK and they have to be controlled somehow, but that doesn’t sit comfortably with the LACS or the people they wish to convince.

The problem is their message is a confused one. I recall one of the members of the Burns Inquiry committee telling me that during a visit to the League’s sanctuary in the West Country, the League’s argument was that hunting deer with hounds was cruel and unjustified because they could be shot. However, the committee member was then told, somewhat quietly on the side, that when hunting deer is banned attention would then be turned to stopping the shooting of deer. Just what the LACS preferred method of control is remains unclear.

We see the same duplicitous tactic employed in relation to the possible badger trials aimed at eliminating bovine Tb and which may allow the animals to be shot. Shooting, they say, will result in “many wounded and condemned to a long painful death”. Yet this was never a concern when arguing for a fox hunting ban – indeed shooting was the most humane way of killing a fox according to the antis. Even when validated scientific evidence was presented to them showing significant levels of wounding it was conveniently ignored.

Interestingly, it was the author of that shooting study, the aptly named Dr Nick Fox, who made a highly relevant point about the important difference between ‘pest control’ and ‘management’ of wildlife. He said, “In pest control, welfare is treated as a secondary priority over efficiency in many cases…it appears, across the board, that ‘pest control’ has been the justification for some of the worst excesses in animal welfare.” However, so many people mistakenly see ‘pest control’ as perfectly acceptable, while condemning hunting with hounds, which is a form of wildlife management, as being wrong because it also involves sport. Nonsense in animal welfare terms, but easy to sell to the public and consequently many people simply see hunting as bad and the Hunting Act as good. Again, the result of a confusing message.

However, for the ultimate example of confusion look no further than the Hunting Act itself. Whether one opposes hunting or is in favour of it, the public and politicians should examine carefully exactly what the Hunting Act does. In publicly condemning the chase, terrier work and ‘killing for sport’, the antis imply that prohibition of these activities has somehow been achieved, yet they are all legal under this law – a point that should be hammered home to those MPs who proudly announce their opposition to its repeal.

"What's up, LACS?"

The central problem is that many on the anti side see this debate as some sort of political game that must be won at any cost. That was certainly the case for a good number of MPs during the passing of the Hunting Act; the practical outcome
of their efforts was secondary or even irrelevant. So does it really matter what the message is or how it’s delivered? Leading poll questions? Inventing science? Even using cartoons? It would appear not.

Perhaps that’s why the facts don’t seem to really matter. In a recent ‘blog’ on the LACS’  website an article and photograph appeared concerning a ‘white’ Red Deer stag ( a rare genetic condition) that has been spotted in the West Country.  It says, “The last sighting near to this location was in 2007 when a calf was spotted weeks after the killing of a white stag nearby which caused uproar among the local farming community. Could this be that calf?”


Well, the simple answer is no…as the photo is of a Fallow Deer buck.

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