Who should you vote for in the election this week? It may well depend on your opinion about badgers, and how each party's Assembly Members have responded to the cull in Wales. The National Assembly Senedd is made up of 60 AMs: Labour (26), Plaid Cymru (14), Conservatives (13), Liberal Democrats (6), Independent (1).
On Tue 15th april 2008 there was a debate and a vote as to whether to kill badgers or not (Motion NDM3906). 38 voted for a cull, 2 abstained, 12 voted against. Those twelve who showed integrity and compassion were predominantly from Labour (10 of the 12): Lorraine Barrett, Janice Gregory, Lesley Griffiths, Irene James, Ann Jones, Huw Lewis, Val Lloyd, Sandy Mewies, Lynne Neagle, and Karen Sinclair. One was a LibDem, Peter Black, and one was Independent, Trish Law.
On Wed 4th November 2009 there was another debate to try and repeal the cull (motion NDM4301). It was defeated, but in this one 9 voted against the cull. The 9 people with integrity this time were again mostly from Labour (6 of the 9): Lorraine Barrett, Christine Chapman, Irene James, Ann Jones, Huw Lewis, and Joyce Watson. Two were LibDems, Peter Black and Jenny Randerson. Also the Independent, Trish Law.
So, how do the parties stack up? CIN has decided to investigate this, but others are doing so too.
The Green Party is the only political party which opposes the cull - the four other major political parties all support a cull.
The Plaid Cymru AM Elin Jones in her position as Rural Affairs Minister pushed this wildlife slaughter through the Plaid Cymru/Labour Coalition in the Welsh Assembly Government. Plaid Cymru are clearly the party for animal farmers, not for the people of Wales. They have pushed for this slaughter all along.
They said they will support a cull in England if it was to be re-introduced there. So a vote for them is a vote for killing wildlife. Nick Bourne AM confirmed in an email to CIN that the Conservatives were not in any way against the killing of Welsh wildlife (though you have to read through the 'politician speak' to understand that).
They also said they would support a cull in England if it was to be re-introduced there so they are on the badger-hating side of the fence too. They did not reply to our request for their official stance on this topic. And see comment below.
However, in the Wed 4th November 2009 debate Peter Black made many valid points which does something to save the LibDem's reputation:
"Since we tabled this motion, I have been astounded, not just by the number of e-mails and letters that I have received opposing the cull, but by the large number of correspondence from north Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, mostly from landowners and people with livestock of their own or significant experience of managing cattle. The claimed overwhelming support for this cull in the north Pembrokeshire area is clearly not as solid as claimed, with many residents concerned that the cull is taking place without clear scientific evidence to support it, that it threatens the integrity of the natural environment in which they live and that the legislation empowers Government agents to enter their land to carry out the cull without their consent. ... Dr Robbie McDonald, head of the wildlife and emerging disease programme at DEFRA’s food and environmental research association ... is an adviser to the Welsh Government’s TB eradication board, and he has stated publicly that culling badgers would make bovine TB worse and that farmers need to start backing the vaccination programme."
Labour are part of the coalition that saw the cull enacted. However although the party as a whole has let down our wildlife, some individuals within Labour are praiseworthy. The Labour AM Joyce Watson pointed out (in an email to CIN) that "9 people voted against this [cull] and 7 were Labour including myself ... I agree with your sentiments". In the Wed 4th November 2009 debate a number of Labour AMs said praiseworthy and relevant things.
Lorraine Barrett said:
"I will start by saying that the Minister’s decision to lay the Tuberculosis (Wales) Order 2009 was poorly judged and likely to worsen the spread of bovine TB in Wales. ... Even the Minister’s chief veterinarian has said: ‘If we are successful we won’t be able to say for sure whether is the cull or our other actions that did it; it will be a combination of these measures’. I do not believe that killing badgers as a means of tackling this problem is scientifically or morally justified. ... [I received letters such as this one:]
‘We run an organic extensive farm and…we have never had a case of bTB. We own 55 acres of woodland which is a badger city with huge numbers of healthy badgers causing no harm to anyone and they also live and move about amongst the cattle. We have always believed TB to be caused by intensive farming and the way to control TB is to deal with the welfare, health and movement of cattle. Coming on to our farm to cull our healthy badger population would be criminal. Why mess with a healthy woodland community which manages itself? If the Welsh Assembly Government insist on being so irresponsible as to cull badgers then please make sure they do not have the powers to come on to farms where there haven’t been any cases of TB, like ours.’
... the director of the Welsh Government’s animal health division said on 23 June that ‘there is only one way that the disease gets into a clean area, and that is by moving infected animals’. In conclusion, I want to say that this is not a cull, but a kill, and Pembrokeshire will be known as the killing fields. It is not a cull, it is a slaughter."
Irene James said:
"In my time as an Assembly Member, I have never received so much correspondence in such a short time on one single issue. This demonstrates the huge amount of public concern and anger over this issue, particularly among individuals living in the proposed cull area."
And Christine Chapman said:
"I fully support Lorraine and Peter in their attempt to annul this Order. I have thought long and hard about this and my conscience will not allow me to do otherwise. We also know how deeply unhappy many groups and individuals across Wales are with the proposal for a cull, and that includes the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, farmers, the scientific community and many citizens who are concerned and distressed by these proposals. It would be wrong to ignore that strength of feeling. I know that, as politicians, we have to be decisive, but, having looked at the evidence, I cannot do anything but support this attempt to annul the Order."
Trish Law is obviously compassionate and reasonable, and an example of all that an Assembly Member should be.
In the Wed 4th November 2009 debate she made many valid points:
"Over the last fortnight or so, since it was publicised that an attempt would be made to annul the badger cull Order, I have been inundated with correspondence on this issue. The vast majority of it urged me to support the motion that has been moved today by Lorraine and Peter, with only a handful in support of the cull, coming mainly from those with farming interests. The correspondence has come from near and far—from Blaenau Gwent to Blaenau Ffestiniog, from Tregaron to Truro and even Troon. I have assured them that my position has not changed since April last year when 12 of us voted against a motion that shamefully ‘welcomed’ the Welsh Assembly Government’s badger cull programme. That there is such wide interest in this motion suggests that the eyes of the UK are on us here in Cardiff bay this afternoon. The integrity, values and humanity of the National Assembly are under the nation’s spotlight this afternoon. I will not repeat everything I said here in April 2008, except to say that, if this motion is not agreed today, we will be edging towards one of the most barbaric practices inflicted by the Welsh Assembly Government in its 10-year history. It is a brutal, heartless and inhuman act when the harsh reality is that Wales’s bovine TB problem can be easily traced to cattle movements and farming practices. Scientific evidence has consistently shown that moving cattle and buying in cattle are the greatest risk factors for bovine TB. The only scientific way forward is to concentrate on vaccination and improved cattle-based measures. Sacrificing thousands of innocent animals, most of which do not have TB, is not a scientific or justified response to the problem, and such an approach will gravely tarnish the reputation of the National Assembly for Wales."
This issue affects everyone in Wales. Badger watching is a popular tourist activity and brings in a lot of business into local areas. However badger groups and other animal/conservation groups from across Wales and the UK are urging people not to visit Wales because of the badger cull, for five years, which could lead to a substantial loss in income for small local businesses. They are right to call for the boycott - it is little different to Canada's annual murder of seals. We should not be killing our wildlife in order to appease the misguided. All the scientific evidence also shows that culls don't work (e.g. the 10 year ISG study). The decision to go ahead with the killing casts Wales as a barbaric and superstitious country that ignores science, and can only do harm to the tourism of this country.
So when you vote for an MP to represent you, it seems that with regard to badgers the best parties to vote for are, in order:
- The Green Party (without a doubt)
- Labour (a significant group of which partially redeem other Labour AMs who are either misguided or cruel): and consider Independants too
- Liberal Democrats (some show conscience, but see comment below)