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July 1997
Editorial: The Land of Hope and Glory

By Martin Rowe


It is only two months since the (New) Labour Party routed the Conservative Party in the British General Election, taking an 179-seat majority in the House of Commons and inflicting the worst defeat on the Tories since 1832.

According to those I've talked to in the United Kingdom, the change in the mood of the country has been palpable: a real sense of optimism has returned. During its brief tenure, New Labour has shown drive and boldness. The party's stated goals also offer hope in turn to animal advocates everywhere; for it is no exaggeration to say that New Labour's manifesto contains some of the most radical welfare and abolitionist positions concerning animals in any political platform anywhere. According to its manifesto, New Labour will phase out battery-cage egg production and outlaw de-beaking of poultry. It will enforce the law against tail-docking and tooth-clipping of pigs and push for a Europe-wide ban on testing cosmetics on animals. It will ban the LD-50 test, where toxicity of substances is measured by the deaths of 50 percent of animals experimented upon. It will end the use of wild-caught primates in U.K. laboratories; ban the import of wild-caught birds into Britain except for breeding or conservation; ban the export of live calves destined for European veal crates; and fight for endangered species around the world. New Labour supports a Royal Commission to look at vivisection and examine alternatives, will increase inspection of laboratories and slaughterhouses, and ban the use of animals in the testing and development of weapons. All this is laid out in a glossy four-color brochure.

Unlike the platforms of both Republican and Democrats in the U.S., there is some hope that not only have the elected officials read this manifesto but they are likely to carry it out. Not only does New Labour have an animal welfare spokesman (Elliot Morley), and thus someone who is somewhat accountable should there not be action, but Tony Banks, an explicit advocate of animal rights, has been made Minister of Sport. While this won't lead to a ban on horse-racing, we should expect to see much more stringent safety considerations in steeplechases and action on greyhound racing.

 We should, however, be cautious. This is New Labour after all, a party that aims to distance itself from its former socialist, working-class roots. Consequently, it is likely to be more cautious than the mood of the country warrants. Nevertheless, its huge majority is ready to push through radical legislation and the signs are very encouraging. The government is to set up a special committee of members of parliament and peers to investigate fox hunting, before bringing a bill to the House of Commons. This bill - which narrowly failed in the last Tory government - will pass easily under this new government. In a further development, members of the Labor, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Scottish Nationalist parties have sponsored the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, which is also certain to become law. English Heritage and the Ministry of Defense have already banned this form of hunting on their land, and 64 percent of the country supports a ban. This will make it virtually impossible to pursue stags, hares, foxes and the like to their death on public or private land.

The $64,000 question in all this is, of course, whether such a progressive platform could happen in the U.S. Under the current political system, it seems unlikely. So huge and disparate is this continental country, so powerful are the hunting, meat-and-dairy, and biomedical industries, and so much slaves to big money are the politicians, that the kind of education of politicians by animal protectionists that has taken place in the U.K. over a number of years will be hard to achieve (although it is certainly worth the effort).

Nevertheless, there are other options. The success of several U.S. ballot initiatives sponsored by animal activists in 1996 as well as the constitutional protection of free speech (absent in the U.K.) means that activists will continue to make their voice heard. The recent lawsuit brought by a man in Washington state against the dairy industry for not warning him about the artery-clogging properties of milk offers the possibility of presenting the meat-and-dairy industries with the kind of headaches recently affecting the tobacco industry. That the U.S. is a uniquely litigious country can work in animal advocates' favor.

There is nothing special about Britain. Although the British were the first to establish humane organizations in the 19th century -žin tandem with anti-slavery, suffragist, and child-welfare legislation - they are no more compassionate and no less venal than any other people. It was the English who brought you enclosure laws that enshrined private property against the commons and arguably established a notion of ownership that has destroyed much of the planet's biodiversity. It was the English who set up the fur-trapping companies that decimated Native north American cultures. It was the British who invented the concentration camp and benefited the most from colonial exploitation. It was the British who brought the world Dolly the Sheep.

What New Labour's victory does confirm, however, is that a population cannot be satisfied by a supposedly sound economy alone. The British people wanted more: decency, accountability, and a sense of direction. Most people are like that: they are decent, they don't like cruelty, and they value kindness - emotions that transcend the supposedly immutable barriers between our species and others. If New Labour continues to follow the people's will, then they won't go far wrong -žand will hasten the much-deserved end of many abhorrent practices, in turn perhaps creating a model of animal-supportive polity.



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