Animal rights is an issue that is of the highest order of importance for some voters, admittedly a small minority. However, my experience suggests that for many, if not most, people it is something that does resonate at some level. Britain is characterised as a nature of animal lovers, and this is what my experience as an activist and candidate also tells me.
Needless cruelty sits ill with the many; whilst the few were pleased with the prospect of a David Cameron Government bringing back fox hunting; Theresa May also wishes for this barbarity to return. I cannot recall anyone contacting me celebrating to prospect of a return to hunting with dogs, yet I did receive a fair amount of correspondence aghast at the idea that we, the UK, could go backwards in respect of animal rights.
The last Labour Government introduced a number of animal welfare issues, which mercifully still remain intact. This includes the ban on hunting with dogs, a law that needs tightening if anything (not repealing). As Labour looks towards the next General Election, and the strong possibility of a return to Government, it will begin to look at what it wants to do with power. In my opinion, animal rights deserves a place in the manifesto, with a commitment to carrying on the good work of the previous Labour Government.
There are a number of reasons beyond the cruelty aspect why animal welfare matters. The environment and our health benefit from a number of initiatives in this area. Whilst Government should not be telling people what to eat, it already does encourage healthier lifestyles. This could be enhanced by pointing out the advantages of reduced meat consumption. Meat-free Mondays, for instance, could be encouraged in schools and the public sector.
The environment is a huge issue, one that we cannot afford to get wrong. There are demonstrable environmental gains from reduced meat consumption, both as regards to greenhouse gases and biodiversity.
We should also look at what cruel sports remain in the UK. An obvious example is game bird shooting. Killing just for the thrill of it belongs in the Middle Ages, not in the twenty-first century.
There are studies that link animal cruelty with abusive behaviour in general. Anything that reduces the latter is a gain for society as a whole.
The laws on vivisection were also tightened by the last Labour Government. These could and should be looked at again. I am not proposing a complete ban on vivisection - the advance of medicine and the consequential improvement in public health trump all in my opinion. However, vivisection must be provably medically important, and not just the cheap or easy option.
We all believe that a Labour Government is vital for the many, and reprehensible for the few. It is also vital for animals and those who love them. Labour has to appeal across a broad canvass of issues, and the protection of innocent animals against the worst excesses of cruelty must be a part of this.