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Archive for October, 2016

A knight’s tale

The 2016 political party conferences did not seem to have the usual collection of fringe meetings dedicated to animal issues.

The Countryside Alliance attended each conference, addressing differing issues from accessing broadband in rural areas to how the BBC portrays countryside matters, but one noticeable feature was that the three main parties all had a reduced number of exhibition stands. According to one exhibitor who attended the Labour Party conference, newly-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn personally vetted those who could and could not have a stand, barring the larger companies and businesses he dislikes.

This doesn’t explain the reduced number of animal stands. The RSPCA, for example, normally holds a ‘Beer and Curry’ evening at each conference which is always well attended, yet no such event this year, perhaps as a result of the recent internal turmoil and a shortage of funds. Those opposed to the badger cull, usually highly vocal both inside and outside the conferences, were nowhere to be seen or heard.

Two fringe meetings concerning animals that did take place are worth a mention.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002

A strong message: Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002.

The Liberal Democrat conference was held in Brighton and a fringe meeting was organised by the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association to discuss the difference between animal welfare and animal rights and how well the Animal Welfare Act is working. Unlike events organised by certain other groups there was an opportunity here  to ask questions, though the answer to the most pertinent query i.e. what is the plan to give all animals rights and avoid all use of them, was a little hazy. There was a call for an increase in penalties for the most heinous acts of cruelty to animals, something with which I and many others would agree. Some might say that talking to those opposed to hunting is futile, but I have found that often it is worthwhile engaging in conversation, if for no other reason, to make people think. It allows for an explanation of wildlife management, the use of scenting hounds in that process and a chance to ask that crucial question: “We know what you may dislike, but what do you actually support?”

It was a question that I would like to have asked a couple of weeks later in Birmingham at the Conservative Party conference where the League Against Cruel Sports held a reception with the famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes as guest speaker. Sir Ranulph had taken part in the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002, yet now here he was at the Conservative conference calling on the government not to repeal the Hunting Act. He explained that he had never been in favour of hunting and had marched for other rural and libertarian reasons. This came as a surprise, given that the enormous media interest at the time left absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the march was about opposition to the forthcoming anti-hunting law and how liberty was being curtailed, not on the basis of sound animal welfare evidence, but prejudice, bigotry and blinkered class war.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference with a different message.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference 2016 with a very different message.

What many who were present wanted to know was why Sir Ranulph had changed his mind so dramatically? What new evidence had come to light that prompted such a volte-face? Apparently, it was the sight of a fox “injured and clearly distressed following an exhausting chase at the hands of the Cheshire Hunt.” The animal, we were told, took six days to die.

There is something rather strange here. Had the fox actually been caught by hounds? If so, it is highly unlikely to have escaped. If not, how does Sir Ranulph know its injuries were caused by a hunt? His explanation does not take us very far, “How did my wife and I know that the fox had been suffering the effects of the hunters’ chase? Because we had watched it being chased with our own eyes.”

If some kind of dirty trick had been played by the hunt, such as releasing a wounded animal, a criminal offence would have been committed and should have been reported to the police. So many questions and yet no time was allowed to put them. Time was available, however, for ‘selfie’ pictures with some of the audience, but an attempt to talk to Sir Ranulph about his experience was blocked as he was whisked out of the room.

Nevertheless, conversations with some present did take place, with one former LACS employee being the perfect example of how the Hunting Act is supported by a kind of blind faith. Asked if this is good law, the answer was, “Of course!” But then, when illogical (and certainly not animal welfare-based) exemptions were described, that view changed to one of the need to strengthen the legislation. And there is the anomaly; the Hunting Act is either good law or it is bad law – it cannot be both.

I asked a LACS official if a meeting with Sir Ranulph might be arranged and was told that a message could be passed on to him…but only if I purchased a copy of his book.

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