|Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.|
proportional representation for animals
Uncaged's founder, Angela Roberts, examines the state of Britain's political system and asks why animals are getting such a raw deal, despite growing public concern?
The last three years here at Uncaged have been particularly demanding ones. We've been incredibly busy with two of our major campaigns: Diaries of Despair / xenotransplantation and, on the Global Boycott Procter and Gamble front, the exposé of cruel experiments for IAMS' pet food. At the same time we have continued to build Uncaged on the organizational side too - as a relatively young group we still have a lot of work to do.
Sometimes I find myself so tied up with the daily ups and downs that I temporarily lose sight of the bigger picture.
A short break over Christmas however changed that. Early into the New Year I found myself full of questions and thoughts about the direction of our future campaigns and the best way to achieve our aims.
I began to think about why animal experiments are still happening. We know that the results from experiments on animals cannot reliably be applied to humans. We know it is morally unacceptable to abuse animals in this way. We can confidently say that public opinion increasingly shares these views. There have been protests and campaigns against vivisection for around 100 years. So why hasn't it stopped? Well, it's for the same reason that deforestation hasn't stopped and the same reason that we still burn enormous amounts of fossil fuels, resulting in damaging climate change - because it doesn't suit wealthy corporations with vested interest to stop.
It's not that we're making the wrong arguments. It's about power.
In this article I will explain why ending vivisection is ultimately a political challenge.
It is my belief that the best way to achieve real and lasting change for animal rights as well as human rights, environmental and other social issues, is to change the way we are governed. The fundamental problem is that our political system is not truly democratic. Instead, big business controls Government. So we need to look at our current political system and see how it needs to be reformed and what opportunities there are for achieving change.
Let's begin by taking a brief look at the key positions of the main political parties:
Pro-animal issues receive very little support in parliament from Conservative MPs - and the party is violently pro-hunting. Fundamentally, Conservative policy has traditionally given no consideration to the welfare of animals, never mind their rights. A Conservative Government would be a disaster for animals.
In 1997 when I and so many other people who care about the treatment of animals in our society voted for New Labour, we were hopeful of a better future for animals in the UK.
However, the longer we have lived under a New Labour government the more cynical I (and many, many others) have become. They are a party of lies and broken promises - when will we see a comprehensive ban on hunting with dogs in England and Wales?
Banning hunting is obviously a progressive step - a clear majority of the public want it banned as do a majority of MPs. Despite promising a free vote on the issue, the Government has now brought forward a bill that advocates a "third way" instead: a system which allows hunting under licence (the RSPCA predict that around 90% of hunts could continue under this proposal).
And what about the promised Royal Commission Enquiry into vivisection? Not to mention backtracking on their proposals to block building more roads and more nuclear power stations - to mention just a few of my gripes with New Labour.
Like the Tories before them they have embraced "free" trade and globalization and enjoy their role as the agents of wealthy corporations. And they don't come much wealthier or more powerful than in the pharmaceutical industry - witness the way New Labour has jumped to defend the notorious vivisection company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) at every opportunity, despite evidence of cruelty to animals and shoddy work practices. Labour has also quietly dropped its support to work towards reducing the number of animal vivisected in the UK. Blair's New Labour Government has no respect or compassion for animals: its main aim is to prostitute itself to the highest corporate bidder. [Click here to see our investigation into how the pharmaceutical industry has reversed Labour election pledges on vivisection, and weakened regulations.]
In 2001 a story appeared in the Daily Express about New Labour plans to promote vivisection in adverts and in schools. Despite their huge financial advantages, vivisectors now admit that they are losing the argument in the public arena and so they run to the Government demanding their support. And, of course, they get it. We live in a society increasingly manipulated by big business for big business, rather than the democracy many of us hoped we were voting for. Once in power, with a big Commons majority, New Labour began backtracking on their plans to bring in a fair electoral system of proportional representation. New Labour has been a major disappointment to many campaigning organizations working for a better future.
New Labour and Corporate Rule
If you are in any doubt about New Labour's love affair with big business or about how much big business controls the government (corporations own the means of production - they control everything we need and want, including our food - this makes them incredibly powerful), I urge you to read George Monbiot's book - 'Captive State - the corporate takeover of Britain'.
And then to cheer yourself up, read Mark Steel's 'Reasons to Be Cheerful'.
For more insight into the politics of the USA - you know, the place where Al Gore got most votes, but George Bush (who has more corporate backing) stole the presidency - I recommend that you read 'Stupid White Men' by Michael Moore. To see how fond of U.S. politics Tony Blair is read 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy' by Greg Palast.
All of these books are must-reads for committed agitators, and people who just want to know the stark truth.
The following extract is from George Monbiot's book:
One of the bodies that has been lobbying to weaken the proposed ban on animal tested cosmetics is known as the Transatlantic Business Dialogue. It is made up of around 100 Chief Executives from US and European companies, including Procter & Gamble.
Of the three main parties with Westminster representation, the Liberal Democrats appear to take the welfare of animals most seriously. One policy proposal has suggested that the interests of animals must be given consideration and have proposed changes in the structure of Government, such as a central Animal Protection Commission, designed to give animal issues a higher priority in Government. However, taking the welfare of animals into consideration is not the same as protecting their welfare, which only legal rights can achieve. Furthermore, the litmus test of the rhetoric of respect comes when parties enter Government and become vulnerable to corporate lobbying. Nonetheless, given the moral bankruptcy of the other two main parties, the Lib Dems offer the only hope for progress in the short term.
The Lib Dems have two further major advantages over the Tories & New Labour. One is tireless animal welfare and anti-sleaze campaigner Norman Baker MP (last year's winner of Channel 4's "Opposition MP of the year award"). And the other is their commitment to Proportional Representation! (PR).
And that really could be the key to achieving serious progress.
Let me say right now that I am a member of the Green Party (not a Lib Dem on a covert recruiting campaign) and I would certainly vote Green if there was a candidate in my area.
THE GREEN PARTY
The Greens are the only party with an animal rights policy. Their policy document states: "The prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a Green society." The Greens are also the only party with a firm commitment to a truly sustainable future, free from self-serving, corporate manipulation. The Greens also advocate PR.
The Need For PR
Many people feel that to vote for the Lib Dems or the Greens is a wasted vote - under our current election system it's easy to see why. At the moment it seems that only the Tories or New Labour can win. But in the last general election only around a quarter of eligible voters actually voted for the winners - New Labour.
The tribal system which we are currently lumbered with means that MPs are discouraged from stepping out of the party line because of the coercion of the Party whip system, or because the Government's majority is so huge that individual MP's concerns can be totally ignored by the Government. The end result is that open debate on important issues - crucial in a democracy - is being stifled.
This will change under a system of PR which is more representative of the wishes of the public. This would mean that popular Green policies could become a meaningful part of the political landscape. We would have a Government comprised of MPs from a representative block of different political parties. A coalition Government will promote a consensual approach to forming policy, instead of the two main parties scoring points of each other in the childish, contrary manner we see at present. It would become increasingly difficult for corporate lobbyists to influence policies; at the moment they can do this easily by building up relationships with key people within the Government who are not open to other, democratic influences. Most importantly, the use of a form of PR for European and some regional elections (e.g. Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Greater London Assembly) has helped break up the Labour/Conservative monopoly on power. Greens are starting to win seats. The tide is starting to change.
I am convinced that to vote Conservative or New Labour, or not to vote at all is actually a vote for business as usual (!), a vote for no change. To bring about change we need a truly democratic government - a government that represents the wishes of the people who vote them into power - instead of greedy and ruthless companies.
Public Opinion Ignored
The last general election saw the poorest turn out of voters for many years. The turn out amongst younger voters was particularly poor and recently published figures suggest an almost comprehensive rejection of formal politics by people under 35. This coupled with increasingly restrictive legislation such as the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, and the Terrorism Act 2000, creates an environment in which dissent is increasingly stifled.
Politicians claim that they want to engage with voters and entice more people to the polling booths - virtual or otherwise, they don't seem to realise that it is simply not possible to reconcile voter apathy with corporate rule. People won't bother to vote when they can see that it makes little or no difference to the issues they care about. Apathy towards elections in Britain will remain so long as the electorate continues to be let down.
Never before has the need for political alternatives been greater - not just for the animals' sake, but for our own and for the future of the ailing planet we occupy.
Of course it is essential that we continue to educate and agitate the public, as one other way to persuade the ruling party to listen to our demands is to raise the level of public concern to the point where it cannot be ignored - to some extent this is what happened with GM food. (I say to some extent, because, although GM food is currently off the menu here in the UK, do not believe that the biotech industry has decided they will concede to public opinion. Instead they have redoubling their efforts to influence a pliable Government behind the scenes.) Whatever system we have, positive change cannot come about without public support. That's an essential building block for progress.
But even when public opinion is clear, as is the case for banning hunting with dogs, the Government is still reluctant to stand up to the few wealthy (and therefore powerful) people who enjoy this barbaric blood "sport". Unless that opinion is represented by a politically-organised power block, it lacks influence. This is one reason why widespread concern for animals is not being translated into tangible action.
It is my view that in the current political/corporate climate it will be very, very difficult to bring about significant changes for animals, especially as so many industries profit from animal abuse. The meat & dairy industry and the pharmaceutical industry immediately spring to mind.
While these industries have so much control, it is easy for them to pump out their messages via the media industry and through the advertising industry. By comparison it is often very difficult for pressure groups' messages to be aired; in 1999 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals commissioned an advert to be broadcast on Sky Sport during National Fishing Week explaining that, of course, fish do feel pain when hooked. The Independent Television Commission (ITC) banned the ad claiming it was "political". At Uncaged we have had adverts unfairly turned down on more than one occasion and we can be listed amongst many other pressure groups (including Animal Aid and Friends of the Earth) who have had dubious complaints upheld against them by the industry-funded Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ruthless profit seeking behaviour of big corporations is clearly demonstrated by a recently leaked internal Procter & Gamble memo. It reveals how P&G executives have been secretly lobbying European Governments to try to block a ban on testing cosmetics on animals.
The memo states: "Throughout the process, it was important that we were successful in keeping P&G out of the media spotlight. It would be damaging to be seen as the company lobbying to test on animals, against public opinion." Indeed!
Make no mistake, these powerful corporations will not be easily subjugated. While ever industry is in control, they will work hard to prevent any changes that inconvenience them or harm their profits.
Time for a Change
I would like to offer a simple way that we citizens can bring about the changes needed; if like me you feel that neither the Tories nor New Labour represent your views, why not vote for a change?
If the next General Election resulted in a hung Parliament, with the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power and able to introduce PR for such elections, we could, in a few year's time, redesign the way we are governed.
Initially it may seem a rather scary idea and I realise that there is a bit of a taboo about pressure groups being overtly political and trying to inform people about their voting choices.
But if we are to have an open, honest and accountable government that represents it's electorate - a democracy in fact - then we must take action. Uncaged Campaigns is not afraid of thinking through the deeper issues, and prescribing the necessary cures.
Once we have moved to a system of PR - we will never go back to our current system - the face of British politics will change forever. Your concern to protect animals could be turned into meaningful change!
Angela Roberts, Uncaged Campaigns 30.01.03
|Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.|