Militant middle class find new cause ... sheep

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The Independent Online
What a difference 18 months makes. In February last year, the seaside towns of Brightlingsea in Essex and Shoreham in Sussex were in uproar over the export of veal calves to the Continent. Up to 1,000 protesters would turn up every day; one, Jill Phipps, died under the wheels of a lorry. Policing costs hit pounds 6 million for the months of protest.

Commentators hailed the rise of "single-issue politics": in the future, they suggested, people with no political leaning in common would come together on specific causes.

The police in those towns are now back to their normal business. First, the veal exports moved - to Dover, following a High Court ruling. In March, they ended after the EC's ban on beef exports from the UK over fears of mad cow disease.

Now Dover typically sees a mere 50 people a day, protesting about the export of live lambs and sheep. "There's never been the size of demonstration in Dover that there were in Shoreham or Brightlingsea," said Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of the pressure group Compassion in World Farming. "It's ... a two-hour train ride from London, longer from elsewhere. And I think people in those two towns were horrified when they first saw the trucks start coming by.

"I think the concern about exports is as high as it's ever been. But it's in the nature of the media that the story can't continue for ever."

Yet the protests do go on. Since Monday, a group of 14 people have been fasting outside the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) in Whitehall over lamb and sheep exports. They also went to the High Court to protest over the case of David Callender, who received a 10-year sentence over animal rights protests.

In view of the High Court result of Tuesday, would their efforts be better aimed at pre- venting cruelty by humans to other humans - as with the case of four women acquitted this week of causing criminal damage to Hawk trainer aircraft bound for Indonesia - than at cruelty to animals?

"These aren't either/or issues," said Mr Stevenson. "We don't live in a world where we can only stop one suffering and not another."

On Friday, Compassion in World Farming plans a "mass demonstration" at Dover docks. There's no knowing how many people will turn up - or whether "single-issue politics" is dead, or just looking for a new cause.