Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

What is to be done?

December 3rd, 2015 1 comment

I wasn’t in a position to listen to all of yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons on the question of bombing Syria but I did hear the first hour or so. And the impression I came away with the most was the arrogance of Prime Minister David Cameron and the condescension of the Conservative MPs. The behaviour of the Tory MPs generally, and particularly when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was speaking, illustrated more than anything I have witnessed before their sense of entitlement to directing the affairs of the country. If this is supposedly what the best of education can buy through private schools like Eton, no wonder, then, this country is running itself slowly but surely into the ground. Those who pay high school fees should be asking for their money back!

It’s not the working class who are at fault. But those who believe that because of who their parents were, where they were schooled, and the well-heeled connections that go along with a privileged life — they are the ones who are responsible for much that is wrong with this country because they are in charge of it. They don’t want change or, rather, they only want change that benefits their class.

While some class privileges have been removed by Labour governments, the U.K. remains a class based country with very little opportunity to — and forgive the horrible phrase — upward mobility.

Moreover, the present Conservative government and its class war masquerading as the neutral fiscal policy of ‘austerity’ will do all it can to protect and reinforce their interests. As much as I would like the Labour Party to offer a viable alternative, I have yet to see it do so.

It is no wonder that I feel increasingly alienated, disengaged and excluded from Britain’s political discourse. Which, I think, increasing numbers of people also feel, if not exactly for the same reasons as mine.

I fear for Britain more than ever before, even more so than in the 1980s when we lived under the democrat dictatorship of Margaret Thatcher. All the benefits and securities of the welfare state, including the National Health Service — these social assets are being steadily sold off to private enterprise. Everything is becoming commoditised and packaged commercially to buy if it can be afforded. This corrosive impact is building a society in which a commitment to community is being eroded and replaced with competition and selfishness.

These values are, of course, the very opposite of what we need when everyone faces problems and challenges that transcend the barriers we have constructed politically and socially — namely climate change, replacing animal consumption with vegan, plant-based solutions to feed the world and foster health, and fundamentally address the pervasive, hidden violence in our societies.

What is to be done?

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Common Decency and Animal Welfare

March 25th, 2015 No comments

Common Decency logoMusician and astrophysicist Brian May recently launched a new campaign from his charity the Save Me Trust. It’s called Common Decency with a mission to reform Britain’s democracy.

We want nothing less than a complete reform of the Parliamentary system. It’s about not just removing the unfairness and injustice that the present Government represents, but removing the corrupt system that spawned it and all recent Governments. And it’s about radically changing the composition of Parliament – moving it forward, consigning the failed two-party system to history.

Brian and Save Me’s CEO, Anne Brummer, kindly invited me to write the following article for publication on in the Experts section of the Common Decency website.

Common Decency and Animal Welfare

The common decency is to treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Perhaps this is easier said than done.

Certainly, it’s easier with those with whom we love. Our family and friends are special to us precisely because of our intense relationship with them. A bond that is grounded in love and respect, intimacy and loyalty. We know they will be there for us when we need them to be. As we would be there for them should they need us.

But what about those who are outside of our immediate circle? Other people whom we may know but not well or, if we do, we don’t like. Do we treat them as you would want them to treat you?


Then, there are strangers. People we’ve never met. We know nothing about them. Other than from what we see from looking at them. And then we may not always be correct in our assumptions. People often aren’t what they appear to be. Or how we think they should behave.

I’d like to think that if I saw someone — anyone — who needed help I would do my best to assist them. But I don’t always give change to the homeless people who I walk past. I don’t always think to wait for others when I board a train. I’m distracted. My mind is elsewhere. I’m tired. It’s been a long day. And I want to get home. I think of myself. Nonetheless, despite my failings in living up to the standard I hold in others, I would like to believe that if I ever needed help someone would come to my assistance.

Surely one of the definitions of a civilised society is that people generally help each other. We respect each other even if we don’t know or like them. We may not be perfect but we’re making progress. Within just a few generations, our feelings have changed toward others who we thought were not like us. But there’s still much to do. Clearly, prejudices persist. We don’t always treat others as we would expect them to treat us. Our society has yet to rid itself of racism and all the other prejudices that may appear to make us different. But on further study our differences reveal how we are all remarkably the same. ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?’ asked Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice.’

A kneeling African in chains in a logo designed by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1780s asked, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’ Whereas Black Lives Matter declares a contemporary US-based international movement with the same name. Is this not part of a continuum of struggle for recognition and rights, and compassion and respectful treatment, which speaks not only for those subjugated but also for everyone?

Those campaigning throughout the world for animals and their welfare, protection and rights push the boundaries of common decency further and beyond our own species. They demand nonhuman animals receive the same respectful treatment that we hold (or should hold) for the members of our own species. Animal advocates don’t demand that animals should have the right to vote. But animals are like us. They bleed when they are cut.

It’s time for the golden rule of respectful treatment to be extended to include all species. This is why Common Decency is committed to animal welfare. We see our treatment of animals not only as an important political issue — animals deserve far tougher laws than they have — but also as a reflection of ourselves and our own society.

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Invention of the Savage

March 4th, 2012 No comments

The Invention of the Savage Exhibition at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris.

Animal advocates know the spectacle of exhibiting animals in a zoo or in any other form of display is an affront to the animals’ welfare and their intrinsic value as individual sentient beings with moral and legal rights. Zoos, aquariums, roadside attractions, etc., are examples of institutionalised speciesism in which we (the human animal) exert power and control over all other species. Speciesism is often explained as being on a continuum of prejudice along with sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc.

The Invention of the Savage exhibit at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris demonstrates this continuum of prejudice and where it intersects on racial and colonial lines; however, it fails, notwithstanding much reference to the ‘other,’ to recognise the speciesist exploitation of animals alongside the various individuals and groups of people who were also put on display in one way or another.

This is a great shame because, otherwise, it is an incredibly powerful and moving exhibition which explains well how we construct racism and institutionalise in our culture. I reproduce here the museum’s brief description of the path taken by a visitor through the exhibit.

The first Act (‘Discovering the Other’) features the 15th and 18th Century arrival of exotic people in Europe, and their consideration as ‘strange foreigners’, categorized in four archetypes throughout the exhibition: the savage, the artist, the freak and the exotic ambassador.

The second act (‘Freaks & Exotics’) shows how early 19th Century brings the emergence of a new genre: ethnic shows. They first develop in theater cafés before spreading to larger and larger venues and being included in exhibitions and circuses. This process of staging the difference blurs the difference between the deformed and the foreign: physical, psychological and geographical abnormalities are first staged, and then become the focus of performances.

The third act (‘Spectacle of Difference’) reveals that between 1870 and World War Two, many venues start specializing in ethnic performance as the Crystal Palace, Barnum and Bailey in Madison Square, the Paris Folies Bergères or the famous Panoptikum in Berlin. It is the time of the professionalization of the activity, and exotic performance morphs into mass entertainment. Visitors are introduced to “actors of savageness” who become true genre professionals: Aboriginals, ‘lip-plate women’, Amazons, snake charmers, Japanese tightrope walkers or oriental belly dancers, but also the first black clown in France called “Chocolat” and drawn by Toulouse-Lautrec and legendary Buffalo Bill, whose show revolves on the native American Indian archetype, which forever brands the Far West imagery. Unbeknownst to them, audiences encounter made-up ‘savages’. Generally paid, the exhibited actively participate in building the imagery.

The fourth act (‘Staging’) shows how reconstructed ethnic villages, zoos, colonial and international fairs, science and spectacle merge in multiple places. Exotic peoples and physical strangeness are brought together on stage as if they both equally represented the realm of abnormality. Excess, grandeur and ephemeral reconstructions characterize this section of the exhibition with posters and painted dioramas, film ,screenings, photographs, automates and postcards. The practice starts in public gardens, following the one in Paris which, in 1877, is the first in Europe to exhibit tribes and groups. Such exhibitions lead to the invention of travelling Villages, like Carl Hagenbeck’s. Major tours start in 1874, and in 1878 until the 30s, international and colonial fairs include an exotic dimension to their programs.

In the Menagerie by Paul Friedrich Meyerheim (1894)

Reference to animals occur periodically throughout the exhibit but speciesism is not addressed as such nor is the ethical question raised about exhibiting animals. However, there are some powerful examples of animals alongside exhibited ‘savages’ where, for example, Africans were brought with elephants and displayed together in zoos.

It was exciting to see in the exhibit Paul Friedrich Meyerheim’s painting, ‘In the Menagerie,’ included as it demonstrates well how an animal keeper displays an African man carrying a crocodile on his shoulders with an elephant standing behind them.

The most important understanding I came away with from the ‘Invention of the Savage’ was how, in the course of a few hundred years, individual non-white people were considered at Royal Courts to be ‘pets’ and ‘novelty’ people. This led to groups, indeed families, of natives put on public display and white people paid an admission to see them at international exhibitions and in zoos. This transition from individuals to groups contributed toward embedding into Western culture an imperialist and white supremacist worldview. A socially constructed problem of the making during last few hundred years which we continue to struggle with today.

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Institute for Animals and Social Justice

June 29th, 2011 2 comments

After more than one year of meetings between academics and animal advocates which was prompted, in part, by my call for an animal rights think tank at the Minding Animals seminar in London in 2008, this week sees the launch of the Institute for Animals and Social Justice at an inaugural ‘Animals and Public Policy’ seminar at the London School of Economics on 30 June.

The IASJ’s mission is to open the realm of social justice to animals and hence advance animal protection. Therefore, the IASJ’s core strategic aim is:

To embed animal protection as a core policy goal of the UK Government, international governments and intergovernmental organisations, utilising and developing applied research as a primary tool to achieve this.

The IASJ’s priority programmes will involve research and advocacy in three crucial areas:

  1. Animals’ legal/political status
  2. Institutional representation for animals
  3. Policy Strategies for Animal Protection

As one of the founding group, I look forward to establishing the IASJ to further the mission of advancing animal protection through policy research.



Institute for Animals and Social Justice from Kim Stallwood on Vimeo.

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Wild Animals in British Circuses

June 27th, 2011 No comments

Martin Lacey from the Great British Circus spoke out in support of animals performing in circuses but refused access to the BBC to film the animals in his care. A move which could be seen to be audacious or naive (or both) given that the House of Commons was about to debate a motion calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses.

At the time of writing there isn’t a comment on the Commons debate on the Web site of Amazing Animals, a company which it states “trains and supplies animals to the film, TV, still photography and live event industry.” You would think that this would be something of interest to them. You would think that they would want to speak out. But they didn’t. Perhaps they believed they didn’t have to.

How the Great British Circus spoke out but Amazing Animals didn’t are just two developments in an extraordinary narrative which formed the backdrop to the successful June 23 Commons debate which adopted unanimously a motion calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses.

The cross-party motion was proposed by Mark Pritchard, Conservative MP for The Wrekin, with the support of Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat) and Jim Fitzpatrick (Labour). It directed the Government to “use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses to take effect by 1 July 2012.” The motion was passed unanimously; however, from the first minutes of the debate no one could have predicted that this would be the outcome. (Read the debate here.)

Shortly after opening the debate, Mark Pritchard stated,

I want to focus on the interesting past few days. On Monday, in return for amending my motion, dropping it or not calling a vote on it—and we are not talking about a major defence issue, an economic issue or public sector reform; we are talking about the ban on wild animals in circuses—I was offered a reward, an incentive. If I had amended my motion and not called for a ban, I would have been offered a job. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Not as a Minister, so those who are competing should not panic. It was a pretty trivial job, like most of the ones I have had—at least, probably, until 30 minutes from now. I was offered incentive and reward on Monday, and then it was ratcheted, until last night, when I was threatened. I had a call from the Prime Minister’s office directly. I was told that the Prime Minister himself had said that unless I withdrew this motion, he would look upon it very dimly indeed. Well, I have a message for the Whips and for the Prime Minister of our country—I did not pick a fight with the Prime Minister of our country, but I have a message. I might be just a little council house lad from a very poor background, but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin, and I am not going to kowtow to the Whips or even the Prime Minister of my country on an issue that I feel passionately about and on which I have conviction. There might be some people with other backbones in this place, on our side and the other side, who will speak later, but we need a generation of politicians with a bit of spine, not jelly. I will not be bullied by any of the Whips. This is an issue on which I have campaigned for many years. In the previous Parliament I had an Adjournment debate and I spoke in the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I have consistently campaigned on this issue, and I will not kowtow to unnecessary, disproportionate pressure.”

Thus, the scene was set for an extraordinary debate in which the plight of wild animals in circuses became also a challenge from Conservative backbench MPs, like Mark Pritchard, to speak out and vote for what they believed in. With the exception of Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, who failed to declare in his speech an association with the Great British Circus, MPs from all parties spoke in support of a ban on wild animals in circuses.

The situation now is that the British Conservative led coalition government is under increasing pressure to ban wild animals in circuses with a regulation written with the authority of the Animal Welfare Act (2006). Time will tell how quickly this will be done. It is estimated that there are less than 50 wild animals in five circuses in the UK.

But the wild animals in circuses debate has far greater consequences. They are all positive, given the cross-party strength of feeling for animal welfare expressed; however, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do to embed animal welfare as key value in public policy. It will now be more difficult for the present government to push ahead with other topical animal welfare issues, including the proposed badger cull and repeal of the Hunting Act. The debate signals a coming-of-age for animal welfare in Parliament. MPs repeatedly made reference to the overwhelming public support for animal welfare. The challenge for the animal welfare movement is to continue to build and transform this public sentiment so that it is focused on the political arena, including at all local, regional, general and European elections.

As I have repeatedly stated here and elsewhere, moral and legal progress for animals will not significantly advance until the animal welfare movement learns to balance the pragmatic politics of animal welfare with the utopian vision of animal rights thereby embedding the values of animal protection into public policy and mainstream politics. The Commons debate on wild animals in circuses signalled a shift in the right direction.

Meanwhile, questions go unanswered. Why did the Prime Minister’s Whips Office institute a 3-line whip on Conservative MPs forcing them to vote against Mark Pritchard’s motion? Further, why, in the course of the debate, did the Whips office abandon the 3-line whip and instruct their MPs that it was now a free vote? The second question may be easier to answer. The Whips office learnt in the course of the debate that Conservative MPs stated their intention of defying their authority. Its withdrawal then prompts a further question: Why was the 3-line whip imposed in the first place? A question that was repeatedly asked during the debate. Later, news reports pointed out that Amazing Animals was based is David Cameron’s Witney constituency. The day after the vote Cameron played down the vote by saying the “government’s position was ‘not a million miles away’ from that taken by Mark Pritchard.” Then, why the 3-line whip? And why such strong-arm tactics against Mark Pritchard? Amazing Animals denies any contact with their MP David Cameron.

One other reason maybe that the Conservatives in the Coalition government with the LibDems wanted the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish a licensing scheme for wild animals in circuses so that it set a precedent for a similar licensing regime for hunting wild animals. David Cameron and many but by no means all Conservative MPs and Lords are pledged to repeal the Hunting Act. If this is true, their misreading of Conservative MPs on wild animals in circuses may will be the precedent which unwittingly ensures bloodsports stays illegal and kill badgers allegedly to tackle TB in dairy cows.

What cannot be denied, however, is that animal welfare is increasingly recognised as a legitimate public policy. Further, it’s now up to the animal welfare movement in the UK and Europe to push further at the boundary of the political mainstream.

PS Congratulations to the various animal welfare groups and individuals involved as well as The Independent who was in the forefront of this initiative.

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Thatcher and Me

May 19th, 2011 No comments

Rumours of Margaret Thatcher’s departure from this mortal coil continue. I wrote about my anxiety on how to react to the news of the inevitable here. Here’s another take from Owen Jones, which I appreciate.

I doubt any Prime Minister has ever polarised this country as much as Thatcher. The right idolise her like no other, believing ‘the Lady’ rescued a declining Britain from creeping socialism in the 1970s. But a pretty significant chunk of the country hate her so much that her death will, undoubtedly, be celebrated. Over the weekend, rumours flew around Twitter that she is on her deathbed: unlikely, but her departure from this world is probably not that far away. Facebook events encouraging street parties to mark her death have been live for years and have thousands of excited members. Let me be honest: I will not weep when Thatcher dies. Her governments ruined entire communities, and many of them still lie in pieces. People have lost lives as a result of her policies: whether it be the Argentine soldiers on the Belgrano, or miners who committed suicide in despair as their futures were taken away from them. But I won’t celebrate either. For a start, there’s a universal principle at stake: I don’t wish death on any figure, whether they be Thatcher or Osama bin Laden. I think they should be held accountable for their actions, and I don’t think their death solves anything.

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UK Govt’s Ideological Agenda

May 8th, 2011 No comments

Further to my post two days ago which detailed the UK government’s ideological agenda determining that it would be too much regulation to prohibit animals from performing in circuses, respected environmentalist Jonathon Porritt writes on his blog that

It is, I’m afraid, unavoidably depressing to see just how rapidly things have gone backwards since May 2010 [when the present UK Conservative-led coalition government was elected]. Instead of having a really strong story to tell at the Rio + 20 Conference in a year’s time, having built up an internationally-recognised framework for sustainable development in the 10 years running up to last year’s General Election, our contribution in Rio – as things stand at the moment – will be humiliatingly insubstantial.

For more on this, read Jonathon’s report commissioned by Friends of the Earth.

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Osama bin Laden, Margaret Thatcher and Me

May 4th, 2011 2 comments

The joy expressed worldwide on the news of Osama bin Laden’s death is simultaneously understandable and disturbing.

Understandable because, like everyone else in the USA on September 11, 2001, it was impossible to pretend otherwise that the morning’s terrorist attacks changed everything. That day I was in Baltimore, MD, which is one hour north of Washington, DC, and two hours south of New York City, working at the offices of The Animals’ Agenda, an animal rights magazine I edited and published. We stayed in publication with the narrowest of balance sheets imaginable. If it wasn’t for the outstanding generosity of the magazine’s readers and grants from like-minded organisations and foundations, we would have ceased publication years earlier. But no one could have predicted that morning the significant impact that the psychological trauma would have, particularly on the country’s economy. The resulting economic slump pushed precarious enterprises like The Animals’ Agenda into severe financial distress. In 2002 we ceased publication, eventually merging with Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to form the Animals and Society Institute.

So, for this reason, and others widely shared by most people, I have no sympathy for bin Laden. Nevertheless, the scenes of celebration over his death disturb me. Taking joy in the death of another, including an animal, shows off our fear and arrogance. These raw emotions are hatred for those who we detest and pleasure in seeing their demise. What difference is there between the celebrations of those who were happy to learn of bin Laden’s death and his followers who found joy in the 2001 terrorist attacks?

The disgust I felt on seeing the recent celebrations forces me to confront how I feel about the forthcoming demise of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For years, I’ve kept a bottle of Champagne in the fridge specifically for toasting on the “glorious day when Maggie dies.” Thatcher stood for everything I thought was wrong. She led a government which, in all but name, declared war on the British poor and working class. Tremors triggered by her premiership reverberate today. In fact, the present Conservative-led coalition government is Thatercherism revived and expanded. This is why the Champagne has been on ice for years, even on two continents. Further, I’ve made it clear to all who would listen that on the “glorious day when Maggie dies” I will be in my local pub celebrating. “Meet me there,” I said.

Now, I’m not so sure. To celebrate Maggie’s death in the way that I thought I would is to behave hypocritically. It is to be guilty of the same acts that I criticise those who celebrate bin Laden’s death and those who took pleasure in terrorism.

And just to be clear before anyone mischievously rushes to do so, I am not making any comparison between Osama bin Laden and Margaret Thatcher. If they do they will be guilty of hypocrisy, taking advantage hypocritically of Maggie’s death in the same callous way that they will no doubt be accusing me off while conveniently ignoring their own poisonous rhetoric.

So, how are we to recognise the death of someone who we hate so much?

It turns out that the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote much used lately is a fabrication. So, I won’t quote what he is to alleged to have said, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

Another recently used quote is also not true! Mark Twain never said, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” So, I won’t quote him either.

So, how will I recognise the death of Margaret Thatcher?

Most likely, I will stay at home, nurture a glass of bubbly, playing loudly Robert Wyatt, the Clash, the Smiths and Henry Cow. And weep a little.

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Victory, Forests, Porritt

February 17th, 2011 No comments

Further to Jonathan Porritt’s critique of the UK’s environmental movement’s response to the government’s forest fireside sale which is now been chopped (forgive the puns), he commented (before the government’s u-turn announcement yesterday) further about their response to the coalition’s initiative. I like his strategic approach.

So my simple suggestion for the Big 10 is this: start all over again, but urgently. Develop a joint position to maximise the massive leverage that your collective membership still commands.

Then approach Mrs Spelman with a deal: if she withdraws the relevant clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, you will hold back from launching a national, joint, high-profile campaign to oppose the current proposals root and branch – in effect, to take on some of the heavy-lifting that has been carried so far by 38 Degrees and some brilliant local campaigns.

In return, you offer to work with Defra, the Forestry Commission and representatives of local action groups to come up with some genuinely radical proposals on how best to improve and extend the Public Forest Estate, how best to involve community groups, NGOs and the private sector, how best to turn the turgid rhetoric about the “Big Society” into a living, breathing blueprint for sustainable forestry in the UK over the next 20/30 years.

And this might well include creative ideas about different patterns of ownership, different ways of optimising public benefit, and indeed different ways of improving the conditions of the 60% of privately owned woodlands in England that are already poorly managed from a commercial point of view and are providing zero public benefit.

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Trailer for New Film on Nonviolence

February 10th, 2011 No comments

Here is the trailer for an interesting new film, Nonviolence for a Change, which is commissioned by the Turning the Tide programme of Quaker Peace and Social Witness. There’s also a report in The Guardian about this which is written by Zoe Broughton, an undercover investigator who has worked at a number of facilities, including Huntingdon Life Sciences and for Compassion In World Farming.

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