The nation’s first “manifesto for cats” has been drawn up in the hope that after Essex Man and Worcester Woman, the next voter group to influence the outcome of a general election will be Cat Lover.
The charity Cats Protection will launch its 10-point manifesto at a House of Commons reception next month, in the presence of the animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley, his Labour shadow Angela Smith, and more than 30 cat-owning MPs.
Among the measures demanded in the manifesto are the inclusion of animal welfare in the National Curriculum, clear labelling of plants toxic to cats and – despite the potential clash with the dog-lover vote – allowing the prosecution of owners whose dogs kill cats.
Jacqui Cuff, Cats Protection’s advocacy manager said: “This could be a potential vote winner. We are, after all, a nation of animal lovers.”
Although cats have rarely – if ever – dominated debate in previous elections, they have occasionally featured heavily in British political life, most notably during the Blair years when controversy about Humphrey, the Downing Street cat, proved a thorn in the side of New Labour.
Within a week of Labour’s 1997 election victory, front-page stories accused Cherie Blair of taking a dislike to Humphrey. The cat’s quiet retirement from Downing Street that November sparked speculation that it had been murdered, and Tony Blair reportedly called it the worst political crisis of his first year in office. (The Independent later revealed that Humphrey was in fact alive and well and living in south London.)
Mrs Cuff said that with nearly one in four UK households, or 6.4 million homes, containing at least one pet cat, there was potentially a huge cat-loving constituency. A YouGov poll last year found that 14 per cent of voters considered animal welfare an important issue in deciding how they would vote at the next election – more than the number of people who would be influenced by same-sex marriage or the High Speed 2 rail link. “We know that animal welfare is very important for voters, and the issues in the manifesto are bought to our attention by cat lovers on a daily basis. If someone is a pet owner and animal lover, they might well consider what candidates have to say about the cat manifesto.”
She was backed by Dr Jane O’Brien, director of the Policy Research Centre at NatCen Social Research, who said: “Our British Social Attitudes survey showed that in 2005, 9 per cent of British people identified themselves as ‘animal rights campaigners’. So there is clearly a sizeable proportion of the population, big enough to swing a general election result, who care passionately about animal welfare. Being photographed with Downing Street’s chief mouser Larry should do Cameron no harm at the ballot box.”
But not all political observers are convinced. Dr Rosie Campbell, reader in politics at Birkbeck, University of London, said: “I would speculate that this manifesto will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the election.”
Cat Manifesto: The key points
- Compulsory microchipping of owned cats
- A national database of cats entering the UK legally so those entering illegally without a rabies vaccination can be identified without delay
- Updating the DangerousDogs Act to allow prosecution of owners whose dogs attack cats
- Inclusion of animal welfare in the National Curriculum
- Clear labelling of flowers, plants and household products that are toxic to cats
- Outright ban on snares
- Stricter regulation on the ownership of air guns and crossbows
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