Eloquently introducing the Commons debate on her call to end the “inhumane” (and so far notably unsuccessful) slaughter of badgers as a means of eradicating bovine TB, the Tory backbencher Anne Main remarked that this was “not an easy subject with feelings running high on both sides”. This was, to put it mildly, an understatement.
Something about the subject brings out the inner beast in some MPs. The Tory Bill Wiggin who owns, as well as in mid-speech rather resembles, a bull, appeared to be arguing on the bizarre grounds of inter-quadruped fairness.
“If we cull cattle, we should cull badgers. If we vaccinate badgers, we should vaccinate cattle…” he declared.
When Green MP Caroline Lucas protested that the science suggested different methods for different species, Wiggin charged.
“I am delighted that the Hon Lady is so completely and utterly wrong… We have seen the disease spread by the policies of people like her. She does not have cattle and she does not know what she is talking about.”
This worked both ways. After the Tory Simon Hart promoted the “intelligent view” that abandoning the cull just because it is “distasteful” does “not do badgers, cattle, farmers or taxpayers any favours”, Labour’s Paul Flynn charged back. Hart’s “contribution” should be judged, he said, by the fact that he had once been employed by the Countryside Alliance, and “was known in Wales for many years… as a main advocate of killing small animals for fun”.
While most MPs proclaimed indiscriminating love for what Wodehouse lumped together as “our dumb chums”, it was clear that the left were chummier with badgers, and that the right’s default position – with other exceptions as well as Ms Main – is with cows. The latter group’s frustration is compounded by badger peskiness. We learnt that some disobligingly “don’t go into traps; they are trap shy” and that “if they have to, they can swim” – knocking Government hopes that they would be corralled by the floods.
In a passionately pro-badger philippic, Labour’s Barry Sheerman cited John Clare’s affecting poem about the man-made torments inflicted on the furry creature before “he cackles, groans, and dies”. Farming minister George Eustice was largely unmoved.
But while the Badger Trust’s claim that today’s non-binding 219-1 vote in favour of Ms Main’s motion was a “huge disaster” for the cull may be optimistic, things – unlike in Clare’s poem – may be shifting the badgers’ way.