The Future of Animal Welfare and the British General Election

The first animal welfare manifesto published by GECCAP 1 for the 1979 general election.

The first animal welfare manifesto published by GECCAP 1 for the 1979 general election.

It is widely reported this morning there will be a general election in the UK on Thursday, May 6. All elections are fascinating and, in contrast to US elections which last years, in this country they are a merciful month of frenzied activity when the country decides its fate.

In 1979 I was involved in the first animal welfare general election campaign when I was the organizer at Compassion In World Farming. It was managed by a coalition called the General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection and was led by Lord Houghton of Sowerby. “GECCAP 1” consisted of more than 65 groups organized into six joint consultative specialist bodies. I also played a leadership role in the 1983 general elections (“GECCAP 2”) when I was the Campaigns Organizer at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. The 2010 election will be my first as I lived in the US for 20 years from 1987.

I will comment on this election on this blog and, in particular, on animal welfare issues. In particular, I want to compare and contrast the first GECCAP campaigns with the approach taken by the contemporary British animal welfare movement. It is already clear that there are similarities and differences. Further, the 30 year difference between 1979 and 2010 and how people are involved in society, particularly via the Web, will make a significant difference in this election from all previous ones.

I make no secret of my membership in and support of the Labour Party. I am active member of the party, attend branch meetings, co-treasurer of my branch and leaflet and canvass with the comrades. Also, I recently led a Parliamentary petition in my constituency, Hastings and Rye, in support of the Hunting Act as our Conservative candidate supports the return of hare coursing, fox and stag and deer hunting. Our Labour MP, Michael Foster, is an enthusiastic supporter of animal welfare.

Looking back on GECCAP 1 and 2 and their manifestos it is encouraging to see many of the demands accomplished, including a ban on hunting, chicken batteries, cosmetic testing and intensive veal production. Clearly, there are issues to discuss about them and other successes. Of course, there is still a lot more to do. A very important difference between then and now is that Britain’s political power is no longer concentrated at Westminster. The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and Britain’s membership in the European Union mean that animal welfare issues are now determined by more than just the British Government in London.

One initial thought contrasting 1979 with the current animal welfare election campaign is that there is not one centralized effort to coordinate a significant number of groups. Yes, there is the Vote Cruelty Free campaign, which is now only a coalition of four groups as the League Against Cruel Sports have withdrawn. It is worth noting that as I write not one of the coalition members have the Vote Cruelty Free logo and Web site link on their home page. Some organizations are going it alone and launched their own campaigns and Web sites. For example, the RSPCA has a Political Animal campaign and Protecting Animals in Democracy has a Vote 4 Animals campaign.

All of these and other efforts have their attributes. But imagine yourself a parliamentary candidate in a constituency between now and May 6 when you are asked to determine and publicize your position on a vast range of issues. Further, many of these issues have competing organizations and coalitions with vastly different positions and policies and platforms and manifestos demanding your support. It does the animals no service when the contemporary animal welfare movement can not accomplish what we achieved in 1979 with a coalition of more than 65 groups led by a respected and prominent national political figure. This failure speaks to the need for the UK animal welfare movement to make further investment to improve its standing as a politically sophisticated force.