Tory Delusions and Badgers

Yet again, I find myself asking what on earth are the Tories playing at?

Of all the most misguided, counterproductive, self-destructive, repugnant and unnecessary decisions that this government could take, the badger cull has to be the most patently obvious.

However, the decision to allow a cull, with the prospect of destroying 30-50% of the nation’s badgers (130k), is typical of the policy decision-making of this government.

It flies in the face of copious peer-reviewed research; an EU report; Conservation and Wildlife groups; respected academics; overwhelming popular opinion; well-known personalities like David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Brian May; Animal right’s groups; hunt saboteurs; and opposition from the Labour Party and LD supporters.  This decision  successfully unites so many disparate groups in joint hostility to the government, at a point when the Tories are already trailing in the opinion polls.  

Furthermore, the evidence is irresistible. Vaccination of badgers, coupled with the sort of strict and effective controls on farming practice (which were in place 40 years ago) is the only feasible strategy to stopping the spread of Bovine TB (bTB), until an adequate cattle vaccination is developed.

Bovine TB is exactly what it says ‘on the tin’.  It is a cattle disease which unfortunately can also infect badgers, deer and other mammals … but for some reason, many farmers, landowners and the NFU, are irrationally convinced that a cattle disease will be magically controlled by simply shooting all the local badgers.

I could tell you all the badger statistics, such as the fact that 85% are not infected with bTB (and less than 2% are infectious) but these arguments are much better rehearsed in the video clip posted below.  And anyway, countering the bizarre claims of the ‘farming lobby’ about badgers, distracts from the more pertinent fact that:

“It is cattle, not badgers, that are the main transmitters of bovine TB so it is utterly outrageous for badgers to pay the price for farmers’ failure to abide by proper biosecurity measures”

Mark Jones, a vet and executive director of the Humane Society International UK (1)

No-one could deny that there is an imperative to stop the devastation and distress of bTB in a herd of cattle.  It is a truly horrible disease.  It is also financially significant for the UK Agri-Food Sector.  The trade of animals and products (dairy and meat) as a whole is annually worth around £1.06 billion to the economy.  However, it is clear that the rise in bTB is overwhelmingly accounted for by deficiencies in modern farming practice and animal husbandry (See addendum).

But to return to the original point, this decision to allow a badger cull is not just epidemiologically insane, it is also political madness. 

Activists opposing the cull offer various explanations for the decision, which range from the influence wielded at no.10 ‘kitchen suppers’ by party donors, to the need to offer the shooting and hunting lobby, something to kill.  Alarmingly, Professor John Bourne, chair of the ISG, says that a senior politician told him ‘Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers’.(3)

However, there is another rather concerning thought.  The public outrage and likely direct action against the cull, may distract the media away from something that the government wants to slip through unnoticed. There is little doubt, that it was just this sort of distraction tactic, that lay behind the proposal to sell off the forest which was announced just as the Health and Social Care bill took its first steps through the Commons.

But there is another factor which is well illustrated by the decision to go ahead with the badger cull.  A bigger picture which may underpin much else of Tory thinking and policies.

“Have you considered how those on the political Right are so often the prisoners of their own emotions, particularly their own fears and negativities … or their own greed and desire to rule?”

Phil C

Think Left’s late friend, Phil C, consistently pointed out how the Tories had created policy to implement their emotional knee-jerk reactions, which they then justified retrospectively… hence the frequency of spurious explanations.

This is very reminiscent of a personality characteristic known as ‘intolerance of ambiguity’…. and of the research evidence that associates ‘intolerance of ambiguity’ with authoritarianism and with the politics of the right.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1126252?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101210105181

The avoidance of uncertainty, as well as the striving for certainty, has been shown to be associated with a key dimension of conservative thought.  That is a resistance to change or of a hanging on to the status quo.  Furthermore, another key dimension of conservatism, endorsement of inequality, is similarly linked to concerns with fear and threat.

‘Conservatives don’t feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions…. “They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm” (2)

[Assistant Professor Jack Glaser of the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy]

Perhaps, the most pointed example of this type of thinking was when President George W. Bush was asked to explain himself.   The Republican president told assembled world leaders, “I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.”

And ‘I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right’ seems to just about sum up the farmers and tory government ministers’ rationale for this mass slaughter of overwhelmingly healthy badgers.

This is truly conviction politics .. an unshakeable faith despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Others would call it delusional.

A petition on the government’s website opposing the badger cull now has 146,000 signatures and several MPs have told the Guardian they are confident they will win a debate in parliament on the issue.

Stop The Cull

Hat-tip Richard Bowyer

Published on Sep 10, 2012 by 

Find out more at http://www.justdosomething.org.uk/

Addendum:

An official European Commission inspection uncovered a catalogue of failures in how England’s farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB between herds.  Not the least of which are failures associated with the profitable practice of moving cattle around the UK and abroad (which was the prime factor in the Foot and Mouth outbreak which also resulted in another unnecessary mass slaughter of millions of animals because of opposition to vaccination).

The EC report stated: “Local authority surveys provided evidence that some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place.” There are 8.5 million cattle in Great Britain on 81,000 holdings, with 2.4m movements a year. In 2011, about 7% of herds were under restriction due to TB and 26,000 cattle were destroyed.” (1)

I was also interested to read that a concurrent infection with Sheep liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) can yield a false bTB negative in cattle, which would mean that cattle-cattle transmission could be unknowingly masked.

But it is not just a question of some farmers failing to follow the biosecurity protocols.  There are also some very fundamental bigger questions about how we treat farm animals. For example, why are we permitting cattle, and other livestock, to be moved so frequently?  Additionally, the industrial scale proposals for high density mega-herds, such as are common in the US, automatically increase the risks not only of bTB transmission but also adds to the risk of novel viruses evolving capable of causing fatal pandemics in the human population.

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/04/farming-shortcomings-badger-cull-bovine-tb

(2)  http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/07/22_politics.shtml

(3)  http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/vital-cull-or-heartless-slaughter-the-great-badger-debate-8202970.html 

http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/534_S4.pdf

7 thoughts on “Tory Delusions and Badgers

  1. Interesting post but I can’t help despairing at the level of outrage when compared with the demonisation & in some case destruction of the lives of poor, sick, young & disabled!

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    • Agreed … and outrage at the benefit reforms and the badger cull are not mutually exclusive. In fact, this article is intended to demonstrate that they are part of the same delusional thinking. The knee-jerk right-wing response is authoritarian… these people are ‘pulling a fast one’. Eliminate benefits/badgers and the world will be put right. Literally black-white thinking in the case of the badgers.

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      • You’re so right (no pun intended), the slaughter of badgers and the demonisation of the poor, sick and disabled are inextricably linked. These thoroughly loathsome politicians have been champing at the bit for years and itching to put their authoritarian and nasty theories into practice. No wonder they continually bang on about “Victorian values” – they are stuck in the 19th century.

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  2. Pingback: Farmers and Badgers. A law unto themselves? | Think Left

  3. Do we know who the “senior politician” is who told Sir John Bourne that they were slaughtering badgers in order to “offer the farmers a carrot”?

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