It was surely only a matter of time before Labour’s infatuation with identity politics led them into the animal kingdom. And so today it has come to pass that a 50-point “Radical Action on Animal Welfare” plan has been launched by Sue Hayman, the Shadow Environment Secretary, who, I think, is a human being (and thus, some might argue, not well placed to understand the plight of animals. Still, she’ll have to do).
Hayman’s lengthy policy paper is entitled “Animal Welfare For The Many, Not The Few”, a creepily Orwellian sort of slogan, teetering precariously close to self-parody, as so much that the Corbynistas get up to. You imagine that Hayman has a bit of animal-socialist agenda here, dismissive of “the few” labradoodles, Burmese cats and fancy rats living lives of plutocratic luxury in million-pound homes/cages, with fillet steak, smoked salmon and every conceivable toy at their disposal. Labour is seeking instead to redistribute pet food and extend equality of rights to “the many” – their slum-dog, stray cat and sewer-dwelling cousins, who have to strive to look after themselves and their families, but who struggle to survive in Theresa May’s Britain.
Jeremy Corbyn’s own pet cat, “El Gato” (Spanish for “cat”) sets the example: “El Gato is, like all cats, fairly individual. But he’s also formed a great friendship with a stray cat so there are socialist tendencies in Gato’s character. He’s allowing a stray cat to share his food.”
If I were one of those talented lobby correspondents who likes to parse every sub-clause in a politician’s quoted remarks, I’d advise John McDonnell to create some sort of role for El Gato in his shadow Treasury team. Jeremy is playing a bit of a cat and mouse game with his Shadow Chancellor.
All together now: “For the Meowing, Not The Few”.
Labour promises an Animal Welfare Commissioner, no less, to ensure that every piece of legislation takes account of the interest of our furry friends.
I think we’ve all had enough of politicians parroting these sorts of ideas, and the one I am most disturbed about is the consultation on the right to own a pet in rented accommodation. Let me be quite fair and quote the Labour press release bullet point fully:
“Consult landlords on giving tenants the default right to keep pets unless there is evidence the animal is causing a nuisance.”
You see the weasel word there is “evidence”. Because by the time a pet becomes a bit of a nuisance it can be a bit too late. Take, for example, the sad case of “Tiny”, an eight-foot-long Burmese python who was very fond of his owner, Dan Brandon, of Basingstoke. So affectionate was Tiny that when he gave Brandon a welcome hug he went a bit too far, and, well, there you go. Or “Scarface” – there may have been a clue there – the pitbull who mauled his owner and the rest of her family who tried to put a sweater on him. Nice gesture, but misunderstood the moment, maybe. Or Humphrey the Hippo who basically swallowed his owner in South Africa, where the authorities wisely “caution against” keeping hungry hippos as pets.
The point being that the “nuisance” dimension of Tiny, Scarface and Humphrey was only really discovered when it was a bit too ex post facto to do any good. Surely members of Labour’s front bench have shared digs or lived in a block of flats where there’s been a dog barking all night or a pungent tom cat marking out his territory. It is generally unwise to keep pets in such spaces – and indeed rather cruel to the animals concerned, which go mad with lack of exercise and claustrophobia. And it is not, if I might use the expression, a human right to keep an animal.
I wonder, ever so softly, whether this is the moment when Labour finally “jumped the shark” politically. Either they will carry on down this rabbit hole or, just maybe, they are way ahead of their time. Maybe in a hundred years after these first steps to animal suffrage there’ll be a red setter, a stick insect and a Shetland pony sitting around the Cabinet table, still arguing about whether we should stay in the single market, and we’ll all wonder why anyone considered full animal representation in politics to be a such an outlandish idea.
Maybe outside the Household Cavalry will consist of talking chimps with machine guns riding horses, I don’t know if anyone’s thought of that before. If the animals do start taking over, though, I’d watch out for those pigs. Rabbits, ants, sheep – all Corbynista-type creatures: sociable, vegetarian and non-aggressive – but those hogs? I’ve heard tell some of them think some animals are more equal than others, you know.
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