Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t given Welsh Labour a great deal of consideration. There was little reason to, I don’t live in Wales for a start, and I don’t share their political ideals. But when they decided to ignore all the evidence of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) review into the use of firearms on the land it manages and announce they didn’t support game shooting on the grounds of ‘ethics’, I was unfortunately forced to take notice.
For those who haven’t heard about this, the review recommended the:
- Continued use of firearms to manage the damage caused by wild animals on the land it manages where this is essential for the sustainable management of natural resources.
- Consideration of all applications for permission to enter onto its land to control wild animals affecting our neighbours land.
- Consideration of leasing land for pheasant rearing and shooting and wildfowling where it doesn’t negatively impact on our sustainable management of the areas.
Sadly, in the wake of the review, Welsh Environment Minister wrote to NRW saying that the Labour Government in Wales doesn’t support commercial game shooting or the breed of gamebirds due to ‘ethic issues’ (for more on the story, click here and here).
Labour has a track record of ignoring evidence when it comes to countrysports, favouring instead its own dubious moral compass over the facts of the case – Burns Inquiry anyone? – so it comes as little surprise that Welsh Labour made this announcement. Okay, so the national Labour Party had a sort of commitment to not restrict shooting until the mid-2000s, but that was New Labour, a far more liberal version of the party which sits in opposition today. Besides, things change. Did anyone seriously think a party that at its heart is antipathetic towards the countryside and sympathetic to the animal rights movement wouldn’t eventually change its spots? There was a pretty big hint in last year’s Labour’s Animal Welfare Plan.
Losing the Argument
Writing on the Countryside Alliance website, Tim Bonner hits the nail on the head when he says that the last resort of the anti-hunting movement when it loses the argument on evidence and principal is to start talking about ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’. He is right when he says that this translates to wanting to impose their opinions on everyone else.
What is worrying about this, however, is it mirrors a cultural shift. We are increasingly living in a world that favours feelings over facts, emotion over intelligence, reaction over reason. Experts know nothing and research is ignored or discredited if the findings turn out not to be what was originally ordered.
But to feel something is easy and politicians know that. And in the culture in which we’re living, to manufacture feelings of outrage and offence in people who seem to be waiting for the next thing to come along and outrage and offend them is all too easy. What is harder – much, much harder – is to temper those feelings through nuanced arguments about conservation, land management, liberty, economics and ethics, particularly for the time-starved masses who don’t really care.
What Happens Next?
Now there is a waiting game to see how the national Labour Party responds, and here it has a very clear choice. Will it distance itself from the announcement in the knowledge that it will further alienate hundreds of thousands of country people? Or will it just dismiss them as Tory voters and fully support its brethren to the west? If I were a betting man I would say the latter, because there is a fierce competition on the far left as to who can be the most radical, and I can’t see the big boys wanting to be outdone by the Welsh Assembly.
But we will have to wait and see. Perhaps it will simply blow over. Wales is a rural country so maybe its people will show their strength of feeling on game shooting and Welsh Labour will be forced to reconsider its position. Or perhaps those who have made this announcement will be punished at the ballot box. Time will tell.
What it may represent though, is a turning point. A major political organisation has publicly come out against game shooting on the grounds of ethics and that will be welcomed by a great many people who have no concern for the activity. From small acorns and all that. However, it is best not left to fester or one day the mighty oak it spawns may well fall in our direction and crush everything the long-forgotten facts told us was right.