Hustings for Animal Rights

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Britain is a nation of animal lovers, they say – so it is surprising that events like the one above, where candidates were asked questions on their party’s stance on human rights, are not more common. Animal rights was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media during this election campaign.

From left to right above are Ian and Iona (Lib Dem candidate and his guide dog); myself representing TUSC for Leicester South; Mags Lewis (Green candidate for Castle Ward) and Leon Hadji-Nikolau (Conservative, Leicester South). The Labour Party clearly didn’t think the issue was important enough to send a representative! The event was organised by LUSH, which made for an unusual and interesting debate.

We discussed the ethics of fishing, one of the most common past-times in Britain – humanely carried out, with barbless hooks, it causes the fish little distress and anglers regularly report pollution in Britain’s waterways. The Tory candidate confused coarse fishing with game fishing, where fish are returned to the river (although many “game” fish are also returned to the water to preserve fish stocks). I contrasted responsible angling with the overfishing of the seas by commercial trawling, where many fish are returned dead back to the ocean. Capitalism always seeks the greatest profit, and long-term considerations, such as the sustainability of fish stocks, are not taken into account.

The treatment of animals for food was discussed – all participants agreed that CCTV cameras should be used in slaughterhouses. My argument was that we need to connect up the reality of where food comes from, with the meals we eat. Again, capitalism’s mantra of cheapest possible production costs, has led to factory farming and poor conditions for animals.

I pointed out that we cannot rely on the state to uphold the law in respect of animal rights – fox hunting has been banned, for example, yet hunt saboteurs still have to protect foxes from being hunted by dogs. The Socialist Party has a record of supporting activists and upholding the right to protest peacefully. We would also reduce the working week to 35 hours – this would create more jobs in the countryside, thus supporting people involved in industries around hunting – grooms, farriers, etc. At the moment, farmers are not even being paid a fair wage for the produce they sell.

Ian, for the Lib Dems, made a telling point that it is now an offence to allow a dog to attack a guide dog, and this is on the increase, with 10 guide dogs being attacked every month in the UK. However, could this be something to do with government attacks on the disabled benefits and disabled people being labelled as “scroungers” by right-wing tabloids? Ian came across as a very genuine and concerned person – I just wonder why he is with the Lib Dems, when they have been complicit in the Con-Dem government’s savage austerity programme.

The Conservative spokesperson seemed uncomfortable with many of the questions, and contradicted his own party’s policy, which has sought to repeal the Hunting Act, saying that he would fight to ban hunting. He said that a vegetarian diet was as unhealthy as a diet involving meat (which came as a surprise to most of the people in attendance!) and blamed a high-carbohydrate diet for obesity. I pointed out that Cameron had said he would deliver the greenest government ever in 2010, and the Tories could hardly be trusted on environmental issues.

The question of vegetarianism was also raised. I said that this was a personal decision – I am not a vegetarian myself – but that it is a more efficient method of feeding the population of the world. Capitalism cannot provide enough resources to deliver basic human needs for the world’s population, and hunger rather than obesity is a vital issue for most of humanity.

The Green candidate skilfully answered the questions and her party has some very worthy policies. However, her response was limited to staying within the confines of the present economic system – she pointed out that while capitalism had its problems – we needed to do something now about animal protection. My position was that, while we fight for reforms under capitalism, the whole system cannot be reformed – that practices such as the horrific conditions in puppy farms and people importing dogs in the boots of cars (very risky due to the risk of rabies entering the UK) – would continue, as long as there was profit to be made from the exploitation of animals.

Only by getting rid of the capitalist profit motive altogether, and replacing our present economy (profit-driven and short-term) with a democratically planned society to meet the needs of everyone, can a truly sustainable and environmentally friendly society be achieved.

If you agree, support TUSC candidates – read more about us at http://www.tusc.org.uk – in the forthcoming elections this Thursday. If you can’t vote for TUSC where you live, why not consider standing yourself? It is very likely that there will be an unstable coalition government, and a new set of elections could be just around the corner. We need to build an alternative to cuts and austerity, to meet the needs of the millions and not the millionaires.

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