Animals Count and the Animal Protection Party are two examples of efforts to advance animal welfare/rights in the political arena through the apparatus of their own political organization. These efforts may be well intended but they are essentially misguided and counter productive as well as potentially damaging to the cause they profess to serve.
Inevitably, Animals Count (AC) and the Animal Protection Party (APP) will exist as fringe political parties. The current electoral system in the UK, which is colloquially known as “first past the post,” does not favour small political parties. Whereas in the Netherlands which uses a form of proportional representation (PR), the Dutch Animals Count party has succeeded in getting elected. This suggests AC and APP should include prominently in their policies a call for PR in the UK. So, for the time being, AC and APP will inevitably exist as fringe political parties in the UK. Not that there is anything wrong with this providing that it is clearly understood what this means as far as making animal welfare/rights a mainstream political issue.
I have written elsewhere about the need for the animal welfare/rights movement to become a mainstream political issue. See for example my chapter, “Utopian Visions and Pragmatic Politics: Challenging the Foundations of Speciesism and Misothery,” in Animal Rights: The Changing Debate edited by Robert Garner (Macmillan: Basingstoke; 1996) and my presentation, “The Animal Rights Challenge,” at the Minding Animals Pre-Conference Lecture Series (London, 2008). Essentially, I believe the challenge of the animal welfare/rights movement is to implement a strategy balancing the utopian vision of animal rights with the pragmatic politics of animal welfare. This is possible to accomplish if the issue of animal welfare/rights becomes a mainstream political issue. (See also The Animals’ Platform at the Animals and Society Institute.)
Briefly, here are three reasons why I believe animal welfare political parties are mistaken and hinder the progress of the animal welfare/rights movement.
The Fringe Factor
Notwithstanding noteworthy progress in some areas, it is unreasonable to claim animal welfare/rights as an accepted mainstream issue in public discourse. We must recognize that it is viewed among the public through the frame of a fringe issue. Efforts to advance it in the mainstream political arena through the apparatus of single issue political party will perpetuate the view that animal welfare/rights is a fringe issue, which will not help advance the cause in the long-term.
The Trivial Political Factor
Fringe political parties, whether they represent a particular political viewpoint or a single issue like animal welfare, are characterized inevitably in the public mind as inconsequential or a joke (e.g., the Monster Raving Loony Party). Further, pro-animal fringe political parties will help to perpetuate the impression among those active in the mainstream political parties that the issue is unimportant.
The Mainstream Political Factor
If our objective is truly to pass laws recognizing animals as sentient beings entitled to moral and legal rights and regulatory protection, the animal welfare/rights movement has no option but to work within the present political establishment regardless of any individual view we may hold. Like it or not, political power in the UK lies within the mainstream political arena. Unlike other social movements like environmental protection and gay and lesbian rights, the animal welfare/rights movement has yet to equal the progress they have made in making animal welfare/rights a mainstream political issue. The focus of our movement should be not on a strategy which adds further to our public reputation as a fringe issue but one which helps to position as one alongside other legitimate public policy issues.
In conclusion, the animal welfare/rights movement would do well to study other social movements and learn from their success. For example, Stonewall, the UK gay and lesbian rights organization, is a professional lobbying group focuses on policy development, cultural and attitudinal change, lobbying for legal change, providing information and good practice design and advice for corporate organizations to change their employment policies and educators to instill respect for difference. Stonewall’s effectiveness is based on their intelligently planned campaigns. Accomplishments include equalizing the age of consent, lifting the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the military, securing legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt, repealing Section 28, securing civil partnerships, ensuring the recent Equality Act protected lesbians and gay men in terms of goods and services and working with more than 400 organizations (e.g., IBM, Barclays, Barnardos, DCLG and the Royal Navy) to address the needs of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in the wider community.