DAY 378 (over-running): INTERVIEWING A TORY AND A LABOUR POLITICIAN ABOUT THE BADGER CULL
This year has been a political awakening for me. Perhaps I should have stayed asleep.
I have visited parliament to lobby poltiicians about badgers, I have visited to watch politicans debate badgers and to march outside the gates about badgers. From political virgin to political hoare.
But parliament has both impressed and disappointed in equal measure. The spires are as tall and dreaming as the rooms inside dusty and cavernous.
On the one hand the debates and the politicians are far more open than you might imagine. You really CAN go and badger your politician and they really will listen. After all you can tell your friends not to vote for them.
On the other hand the political process surrounding the debate over the badger cull stinks of cow shit – good science is covered in a layer of political muck in which cynicism gorws and flies linger – and I wonder how much this reflects the wider political process, especially regarding animal welfare.
How much can a person help animals by getting political?
Yes – you can speak to your MPs, yes – you can go on marches but does it make any difference to a badger, cow or a pig awaiting a painful death?
I have interviewed two MPs about the badger cull from both sides of the house to get a clearer view of what politicians can – and want to do – about animals.
Huw Irranca Davies is the Labour minister who stood up to debate the case against the cull. He was impressive and eloquent but Labour were never going to win – the debate was triple whipped (people were advised to vote with their party).
Tracey Crouch is the eminently brave Conservative MP who was one of the few lone voices on the other side of the chamber to also decry the cull. I imagine her triple whipping was particularly painful.
It’s important to say that both MPs were suprisingly human. I don’t know what I expected of politicians but I vaguely thought most lived inside television boxes. They were full size persons, warm and straight forward. I could easily imagine either of them of tripping over a stick.
But both painted a picture that was, for me, a fairly depressing portrayal of the parliamentary process.
Both admitted that the National Farmers Union (the NFU) had a powerful influence in government (of course they do) both admitted that science was often secondary to politicans and both admitted, most shockingly of all, that many, many politicians were simply ignorant of the facts.
This angered me. But it rang true. At one point in an early debate a conservative MP claimed that bTB would not be spread by badgers in the cull zone because it was bounded by a river and a motorway. No one told him that badgers can swim and corss roads.
It only took me 20 minutes to get my head round the basic science of the matter. Surely a politician could spare that? Especially since they spent £50 million and 10 years on the Krebs trial to assess the viability of the badger cull
Tracey said that often that MPs couldn’t spare the time. ‘This place churns out information. The sheer number of emails we get means we don’t’ have time to go into everything in depth. Your’e fed a line and you vote on that and you have to make a decision very quickly’
Huw concurred: ‘If there was competing demands on a Monday morning for an urgent discussion about something – then I suspect the turtles in the Cayman islands would fall behind the question about the HS2 railway’
Understandable if unacceptable. The power to make decisions that affects the lives of thousands of animals rests in the hand of MPs some of whom haven’t the time – or inclination – to find out the basic facts.
But what made Tracey different?
‘I’m lucky. I don’t have a family, so I have time to read through those documents late on a Sunday night. Other people don’t.’
But surely Owen Patterson, the man in charge of the cull, understands the science?
Yes, he does, admitted Tracey, but he was simply not ‘open minded enough’ to see the full argument. ‘You see what you want to see’. A fairly damning comment from within the same party.
And what influence does that leave the member of the public with?
Both MP’s were suprisingly positive about this. Apparently the lowly act of writing to your MP really does make a difference.
‘If a hundred people write to their MP’ said Tracey ‘that will make them look up. Since that vote [on the badger cull] I’ve spoken to a number of colleagues who have changed their mind. They’ve been asked questions by their consituents and then they ask their minister and if they get an unsastifactory answer they think again’
So there you have it. Parliament is a busy, inefficient place that sometimes fails good science because of those that are too busy to care. But YOU can make a difference. Write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative, and kick up a fuss.