With the Labour party failing to come up with an appealing offer for the countryside, Tim Bonner encourages all the parties to ditch the animal rights agenda and truly engage with rural voters
Labour’s shadow Defra team aspire to govern the countryside. They have told us so on multiple occasions and with the current political turmoil they might just get the opportunity. However, the party will continue to suffer in rural constituencies if their hostility towards rural Britain remains.
This hostility has been revealed again by research completed by the Countryside Alliance. Our work uncovered a worrying connection between the shadow Defra team, a vegan pressure group and a convicted animal rights extremist – and this discovery has had farmers, gamekeepers and everyone involved in the working countryside asking some very searching questions.
The connection was in the form of an article published on LabourList. org under the signature of the shadow environment secretary, the content of which included sentences directly copied from several animal rights groups and individuals.
The article was an attack on grouse shooting. While the article stopped short of calling for a ban – to the frustration of the animal rights advocates who are desperate for the Labour party to do precisely that – it did point to a very concerning thought process and direction of travel. It picked up on many of the topics of conflict such as flooding, burning and raptor persecution, while completely ignoring the economic worth of grouse shooting to local communities and the wholesale conservation benefits.
With this line of attack, it was wholely predictable that the copied paragraphs came from organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports and Animal Aid. Most alarming were the paragraphs copied from animal rights extremist, Luke Steele, a man who has been convicted and cautioned on the issue of harassment involving animal rights on numerous occasions.
If Labour’s Defra team are happy to copy their work from some of the most strident animal rights and vegan activists, any reassurances that have been offered to the working countryside and organisations such as the Countryside Alliance begin to sound a bit hollow. Especially since the Labour party have admitted that any route to a future majority must involve improving on the party’s poor performance in rural constituencies. The Countryside Alliance believes that the countryside benefits when every political party is vying for the rural vote. So earlier this year we worked with the Fabian Society, a Labour think tank, to produce a report entitled Labour Country. This report showed that the party had some way to go in order to win over rural communities, but suggested there were reasons for the party to be optimistic if only they could focus on delivering solutions to the issues rural people actually care about. The report specifically advised avoiding the animal rights agenda that at best is irrelevant to rural people’s lives and at worst tells rural people that the Labour party is “actively hostile to them”.
The report’s conclusion was highlighted when the Leeds north-west MP, Alex Sobel, recently aired his views on grouse shooting. With no moorland management or grouse shooting present in his constituency, Alex Sobels’ constituents demanded he spent more of his time on matters that impact them rather than pandering to a few extremists. It was clear that he would gather more support from investing his time into local services, especially in the rural parts of
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his constituency, rather than blogging about topics that only relate to elsewhere.
Labour’s shadow Defra secretary spoke positively on the panel at the launch of the Labour Country report, yet over the last few months the party has shown no sign of learning those lessons. Indeed, every step towards the fringes of the animal rights movement has been more extraordinary than the last.
A Labour consultation on animal welfare launched earlier this year committing to “lead the way on animal rights,” was completely unexpected and has ground to a halt after being lauded in its launch. The last-minute rejection of the scientific evidence by the Labour environment minister around pheasant shooting on public land in Wales was stunning and, again, has changed little. And now the shadow Defra secretary is quoting convicted animal rights extremists.
The CA has challenged the Labour party on each of these missteps, and we will continue to do so. Not out of any sense of ill will, but because we actually want the Labour Party to make an appealing offer to the countryside. We want to see all political parties develop their relationship with the working countryside, and we remain open to working with any MPs interested in developing sound policies that work for rural Britain.
The Labour party seems to be aligning themselves with those that oppose our way of life