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Archive for June, 2014

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.

Access to Labour Party conferences proved to be no problem for the League

Access to Labour Party conferences proved to be no problem for the League

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.

How the story of fraudulent payments broke

How the story of fraudulent payments broke

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.

 

 

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The recent media debate about how animals destined for the food table are slaughtered revealed some interesting parallels.

It was reported that some of Britain’s well-known restaurants, supermarkets and some schools are selling and serving meat produced by the Islamic (halal) or Jewish (shechita) methods of slaughter and that many consumers are unaware of this.

In its purest sense, halal slaughter requires the animal to be conscious at the time of death in order that the person killing the animal can recite a prayer five times while looking into its eyes “until its soul departs”. However, it’s reported that some 88% of animals destined for various tables are pre-stunned and yet can still considered to be ‘halal’. The Jewish form of slaughter also requires the animal to be conscious and to be killed with a swift single cut to the neck, severing vital arteries and veins to render the animal unconscious as soon as possible, thereby making the meat ‘kosher’.

Is it really so difficult to properly label meat?

Is it really so difficult to properly label meat?

While some of these religious groups argue that their methods of slaughter are just as humane, if not more humane, than the normal pre-stunning method, the British Veterinary Association begs to differ. The BVA argues that without stunning animals are likely to suffer and concern has understandably been raised about the remaining 12% of animals not pre-stunned.

A second debate stems from the fact that this change to eating habits has all been done without really informing the majority of the British public. In a world where people rightly demand to know how their food is grown, what’s in it, where it comes from, how far it has travelled and who was paid to produce it, there seems to be a reluctance to indicate the method of slaughter. There has been a remarkable silence from certain animal rights groups and it makes one wonder just who is behind such a calculated change – the religious groups, the supermarkets or the ‘politically correct’?

Part of the answer may lie with the left-wing press, who seem to argue that all this has been prompted more from a desire to whip up dislike of certain religious groups, rather than for animal welfare reasons. But that’s using a tired old tactic – playing the ‘race card’ or the ‘Islamophobia card’ – often employed to shut down any debate on certain controversial matters. It’s certainly noticeable how the Labour Party seems to pick only those comfortable issues that suit it when it comes to championing animal welfare.

In a recent article for the Fabian Society, former Labour MP Ian Cawsey argues that animal welfare might hold the key to winning the next general election. So what could Labour offer in 2015 that could win that 14 per cent of the electorate who could deliver the keys to Downing Street?” he asks, while avoiding the millions upon millions of animals involved in factory farming and the rather touchy subject of halal and kosher methods of slaughter. “Already Labour has been strong on the futility of the badger cull and the need to follow the science when tackling bovine TB…A strong message that Hunting with Dogs will be enforced, not repealed would also play well with those who care about animals.”

Evidence shows that few people vote solely on animal welfare issues

Evidence shows that few people vote solely on animal welfare issues

Yet when it comes to voting for the next government, the public tend to talk about the things that directly affect them and usually, unless prompted, animal welfare comes way down the list. Hunting with dogs hardly registers at all. This doesn’t stop the ‘politically correct’ using hunting as a campaigning issue, as can be seen from previous elections and more recently Labour’s ridiculous, class-ridden party political broadcast.

Of course that class-war nonsense could backfire on the Labour Party if the hunting world in the shape of Vote OK decides to mobilise against anti-hunting candidates. For all the talk about 80% of the population being against hunting, it is the number of feet on the ground that could make a big difference here and there are far more hunting supporters than animal rightists willing to pound the streets delivering leaflets.

Some would argue that the way in which an animal dies to provide food is a matter of choice. As the law stands, that’s true in the case of those who wish to eat halal or kosher meat. I made my choice many years ago back in the 70s not to eat meat, but surely those who do should have the right to know how the animal died? Now, in the case of halal and kosher meat, that decision appears to be made for the public by some restaurants, supermarkets and schools. Yet, in being so ‘politically correct’, it is a move that specifically ignores the rights of another religious group – the Sikhs – who are barred from eating meat from an animal that has been ritually slaughtered.

Earlier this month, Shipley’s Conservative Philip Davies put forward an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill calling for the method of slaughter to be made clearer on all meat sold in the UK – a move that also finds some agreement with the leaders of Islamic and Jewish groups. This is the second time Mr Davies has tried to get halal and kosher meat labelled. A few years ago he tabled a private members Bill to this effect, but it was talked out by MPs led by anti-hunting Sir Gerald Kaufman.

For a number of years now the Countryside Alliance has been calling for all food to be properly labelled in order that consumers may make their own personal choices on a variety of aspects. It’s worth noting that the Chair of the Alliance, Labour’s Kate Hoey, was one of the few MPs who supported the Davies amendment, which sadly was lost, while some prominent anti-hunters either voted against the amendment or abstained. The government argued that the issue was complex, but how hard is it to state “Slaughter method: pre-stunned” or “Halal” or “Halal: pre-stunned”?

Isn’t it odd that we know far more about what goes into a packet of cornflakes than we do about the method a sentient animal was killed?

 

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