Oliver Wright: Attempts to muzzle debate showed No 10 at its most beastly

 

Share
Related Topics

From the outset, Downing Street's response to attempts by independent- minded MPs to ban the use of wild animals in circuses was misleading and bullying. Thankfully, yesterday it also proved to be futile.

Last month the Government tried to claim such a ban would breach circus owners' human rights. Then it emerged Whitehall officials had ruled out any human rights implications.

At the same time they tried to blame the EU by stating that "cross-border selling regulations" would be breached by any new British legislation.

Then the commission pointed out this wasn't true and member states could make exemptions on animal welfare grounds.

So having lost the argument, Downing Street (and David Cameron personally) resorted to baser tactics: bullying and bribery. On Monday Tory whips told Mark Pritchard, the MP behind the Bill, that if he dropped it quietly they would give him a job for his troubles. He refused.

On Wednesday night, on the eve of the debate, they threatened him: unless he withdrew the motion the Prime Minister would look upon it "very dimly indeed".

He refused again and even worse for Mr Cameron revealed all the dirty tactics on the floor of the Commons.

The result: Downing Street carried out the Coalition's 18th U-turn and gave MPs a free vote of the Wild Animal Bill, despite an earlier decision to issue a three-line whip. Predictably and rightly they lost without even having to go through the division lobbies.

The consequences of this debacle are significant. For Mr Pritchard – an honourable man brought up on a council estate and now a leading member of the Tories' 1922 Committee – his political career is all but over. Forget ministerial office or ennoblement; he will languish on the back benches for as long as Mr Cameron is in Downing Street.

His legacy will be an effective ban after the Government said it would respect the wishes of the House. And, given how much he cares about the subject, he will certainly prefer this to being under-secretary-of-state for paperclips.

For Mr Cameron, it has brought into the public spotlight bullying tendencies that, until now, have been kept behind close doors.

It also raises questions about why he took such a close interest in the subject. He over-ruled his own Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, to oppose the ban. Unsubstantiated rumours have circulated all week in Westminster that he had personal reasons for doing so. Those issues are unlikely to go away soon.

But amid the political shenanigans, the substance should not be forgotten.

MPs stood up to the Government and voted in favour of banning the use of wild animals in circuses. That's good news for animal welfare and democracy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron's Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering