The rise and fall of the RSPCA

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

THREE chief ex­ec­u­tives in five years, un­der ‘for­mal ob­ser­va­tion’ by the Char­ity Com­mis­sion, ac­cused of ‘ex­ploita­tive and un­eth­i­cal fundrais­ing meth­ods’ and now un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for what may be im­proper use of funds: these are not ref­er­ences to an unim­por­tant niche or­gan­i­sa­tion, but to Bri­tain’s old­est and rich­est an­i­mal char­ity, the RSPCA.

A £140-mil­lion busi­ness, it’s now in se­ri­ous trou­ble. Mem­ber­ship has plum­meted to fewer than 20,000—this is set against the RSPB, which has more than one mil­lion mem­bers and ris­ing. Fol­low­ing a low-turnout elec­tion, the char­ity has el­e­vated more peo­ple who have pre­vi­ously ex­pressed ex­treme views to its gov­ern­ing board and has lost al­most ev­ery con­nec­tion with its core con­stituency.

Quite re­cently, things were so dif­fer­ent. There was al­most uni­ver­sal sup­port for the char­ity across town and coun­try­side and the RSPCA in­spec­tor was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to pri­mary schools, en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren to keep pets and ex­plain­ing how to look af­ter them. It was felt to have done a good job with abat­toirs and helped ef­fect com­pro­mises in Na­tional Hunt rac­ing.

Farm­ing fam­i­lies, in par­tic­u­lar, sup­ported it, un­der­stand­ing how im­por­tant its role was in pre­vent­ing cru­elty. It was not just that the RSPCA pros­e­cuted peo­ple who were know­ingly reck­less or pur­posely cruel, it was the way in which it helped the ig­no­rant and vul­ner­a­ble to re­form their hus­bandry.

No won­der that the char­ity, founded by, among oth­ers, anti-slav­ery cam­paigner Wil­liam Wil­ber­force, built up sig­nif­i­cant re­serves and as­sets and had a na­tion­wide net­work of branches and res­cue cen­tres. Royal pa­tron­age and wide­spread sup­port gave the RSPCA a spe­cial place in English life, but it was that suc­cess that made it a juicy tar­get for ex­trem­ist en­try-ism.

Along came peo­ple who couldn’t have cre­ated an or­gan­i­sa­tion like this in a month of Sun­days. The vast ma­jor­ity of Bri­tons ab­hor cru­elty, but they don’t be­lieve that an­i­mals are more im­por­tant than hu­mans, they don’t re­sort to vi­o­lence to achieve their ends and they don’t com­pare Bri­tish farm­ing meth­ods to the Nazi Holo­caust, yet these are the views of a small fac­tion that has in­flu­ence on this once great or­gan­i­sa­tion. To them has fallen the as­sets, rep­u­ta­tion and in­come so care­fully built by gen­er­a­tions of hard­work­ing peo­ple who were shocked by an­i­mal cru­elty.

This is our fault, how­ever. You can only steal an or­gan­i­sa­tion from its sen­si­ble mem­bers if the rest of us are in­do­lent, don’t turn up to or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tees and don’t vote in the elec­tions for of­fi­cers. Small and or­gan­ised groups can wreak havoc once the ma­jor­ity of sup­port­ers con­tent them­selves with the odd do­na­tion and an oc­ca­sional visit to a bring-and-buy sale.

What’s hap­pen­ing to the RSPCA re­flects many other parts of so­ci­ety. The vast ma­jor­ity of Labour sup­port­ers don’t share the de­struc­tive in­stincts of Mo­men­tum and yet, in con­stituency af­ter con­stituency, its mem­bers in­fil­trate mori­bund or­gan­i­sa­tions, seek­ing to de­s­e­lect mod­er­ate MPS and re­place them with head-bangers.

The Tories’ once pow­er­ful elec­toral ma­chine is a shadow of its for­mer self. Con­stituen­cies that boasted thou­sands of mem­bers now rely on a few hun­dred, many of whom are old and set in their ways. They, too, choose can­di­dates who mir­ror their nar­row views rather than those with wider ap­peal. This is why many of the elec­torate are feel­ing in­creas­ingly dis­en­fran­chised.

This is how once great or­gan­i­sa­tions be­come ex­trem­ist pres­sure groups and po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­come in­creas­ingly un­electable rumps. Again, we can only blame our­selves. If we don’t join and par­tic­i­pate, we give power to the ex­trem­ists and help de­stroy a mod­er­ate, civilised way of life.

‘Small and or­gan­ised groups can wreak havoc

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