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If your cat knew Jeremy Corbyn lived with a cat called El Gato, would he vote Labour in the upcoming General Election? Or if you told your dog that Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, recently adopted a rescued dog called Dilyn, would your pooch vote Conservative on December 12?
Of course, not. Dogs and cats – and all animals for that matter – aren’t enfranchised. And, we suspect, most people will think it’s ridiculous for any animal to be able to vote.
Votes for animals
But increasing numbers of people who do care about animals believe their votes matter when it comes to voting for candidates and political parties. Their choice is for those who make the strongest animal-friendly case in their manifestos.
And with the Conservatives dropping their support for a repeal of the Hunting Ban, the choice isn’t as straightforward as you might think. But what is clear is this: all the political parties are vying for the votes of animal lovers.
And as a nation of people who pride ourselves on our treatment of our companion animals and the protection of our wildlife, those votes can really add up. Will votes for animals be the swing issue this election?
The political leverage of animal welfare is nothing new. Since the 1970s, Britain’s animal welfare organizations have used general elections to advance their cause to surprising effect.
After the first ‘Putting Animals into Politics’ campaign during the 1977 general election, all the major political parties included animal welfare commitments in their manifestos.
Indeed, they have done so in all subsequent general elections.
Animal welfare matters
In the last four decades, these campaigns led by Britain’s foremost animal welfare organisations, proved to the Labour, Conservative, and Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition governments that, when it comes to votes, animal welfare matters.
Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980s passed legislation to replace the century-old law regulating experiments on living animals.
Tony Blair’s Labour government banned hunting with packs of dogs and farming animals for fur. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition promised to end the testing of household products on animals, and promote responsible pet ownership. And the Conservative government pledged to make UK law recognize animal sentience after Brexit.
So animals, once again, are raising their heads in this general election. The Conservatives’ dropping of the repeal of the Hunting Ban angered the Countryside Alliance but brought celebrations to the League Against Cruel Sports.
Labour has promised to appoint an independent Animal Welfare Commissioner, with the objective of ensuring that animal welfare standards are considered in new legislation as Britain takes part in international bodies, trade deals and obligations.
The Liberal Democrats will introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences.
And promises to ban live export of animals for slaughter in different countries have again become uppermost in these people’s minds with the recent capsizing of a sheep transport ship in the Black Sea out of Romania.
Over 14,000 sheep have either been drowned in horrific conditions or rescued – only to continue their journey to slaughter.
The Greens and Conservatives would ban live exports outright; Labour would ban them, with an exemption for breeding animals under high welfare standards. Live exports are not mentioned in the Lib Dem manifesto.
Campaigning from within
But what is often most exciting – not only for those who care about animals, but also the animals themselves, your dog or cat, and also those we currently use for food, entertainment and clothing – is that the protection of animals is a field in which members of political parties campaign from the inside to strengthen their parties’ commitments.
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and Labour Animal Welfare Society lead these efforts.
Will animal welfare ever rate as highly in this and future general elections as the economy, Brexit, National Health Service, and many other human-centered issues? Probably not.
But with growing public awareness of animal cruelty and exploitation along with the increasing popularity of vegan and non-animal tested consumer products, the electorate is beginning to include in its deliberations which candidates and which parties care about animal welfare.
And as animal welfare is increasingly understood to play a critical role in the bigger picture of healthy lifestyles, environmental protection, the looming crisis of antibiotic resistance, and averting the climate crisis, voting for animals and humans will be at the forefront of many people’s minds.
El Gato and Dilyn won’t need to cast votes at the ballot box if we use ours wisely to protect them. What’s more, if we take this election seriously for animals, it could be transformative for the billions of land and sea animals around the world who also deserve our protection.