A Lesson From History

Posted on Monday, July 17, 2023
In: Editorial
Written by: Peter Brook

This piece written in 1978 for the Birmingham Post shows just how little our ‘political leaders’ have learnt in 45 years.

“Turning aside for a while from the difficulties it has with people, the Labour Party seems to have manoeuvred itself into a blind thicket over its attitude towards animals.

It was to have given sanction to a move by its home policy committee to get a ban on blood sports — fox-hunting, hare­coursing, beagling and stag-hunting included in its election manifesto. But the National Executive decided to refer back the matter for a month so that the issue can be re-considered. Since Mr. Benn, the chairman of the home policy committee, moved the reference back himself, it looks as if there have been some. Ministerial goings-on.

Mr. Callaghan and some of his colleagues are said to be unhappy about the effect that the proposed policy would have on the rural vote (an unusual thing for them to worry about) while the Prime Minister is also anxious not to embarrass the Royal Family on the matter of fox-hunting.

This hesitancy on the part of the Government provides pause for rather more sober thought on the whole vexed question of animal welfare and legislation. Any Government needs to be very careful about rushing to the Statute Book on this, that and every other issue that arises. Some of the more grotesque, pompous, unfair and sometimes unworkable legislation under which we labour — one can think of Sunday observance, drinking, sex equality and race, has arisen from a desire to fashion behaviour and morals by diktat.

Blood sports is a particularly tangled subject because of the various forms that these take, so that it can be unwise to advocate blanket legislation without taking all the factors into consideration and consulting all interests. This newspaper has always been against hare-coursing, which we consider to be cruel and lacking in saving merits [ though as we see in Ireland robust science has shown that coursing, when correctly carried out, actually benefits hare populations ed]    but in other directions, a more cautious approach is clearly necessary.

This is true of the whole business of animal welfare. It runs the gamut from whether stray dogs should be rounded up and destroyed to whether the very important export trade in live animals ought to be prohibited. These are all matters on which people hold strong and diametrically opposite views, as our corre­spondence columns so frequently show. It is a field in which there are no absolutes and in which everything needs to be qualified and examined. What we all have to consider is whether any pursuits are wantonly and unnecessarily cruel to animals.

But what beggars the whole debate on this matter is that a political party should be approaching it in vote-catching terms. This is indeed cynical and far removed from the aims of the many sincere people who stage their protests on the issue of cruelty per se~. Perhaps the home policy committee was thinking, not of the rural vote but of that in the big cities where the abolition of fox-hunting might have a popular appeal among those who, rightly or wrongly, see this sport as a class issue and are no more concerned about the welfare of foxes than they are with that of broiler chickens or battery hens.

The Labour Party has surely done itself no good in the eyes of abolitionists by allowing itself to be seen linking animal welfare with votes.”

As we know, some 25 years later lessons outlined in the article went unheeded and a combination of misplaced class hatred and a large ‘donation’ saw the Hunting Act forced through onto the statute book.
In recent polls, the number of potential voters who have stated that they will vote for any party that wants to increase the penalties for participation in an activity which they do not want to understand but which offends their moral sensitivities is less than 3% – nothing like the 80%+ claimed by those who support, and who ‘have bought and paid for’ further sanctions.