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

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

Recruitment Genius: IT Buyer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company are currently re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Account Manager

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
Rachel Reeves is the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary  

What are we voting for? No one knows

Stefano Hatfield
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor