Last night (November 29th) wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer chaired a hustings debate – a meeting at which candidates in an election address potential voters. It took place in Stroud, Gloucestershire, a seat held before dissolution by Labour’s David Drew. Mr Drew won the seat in 2017 with 29,994 votes and a majority over the Conservative’s Neil Carmichael of just 687. The Liberal Democrats took 2053 votes, the Greens 1423, and UKIP 1039: a combined total of just 7% of the available votes.
The meeting, which unfortunately wasn’t especially well-attended, involved Dominic, David Drew and the Green Party’s candidate Molly Smith Cato, a former MEP for the south-west who grew up in nearby Bath. Both are respected politicians with proven track-records on environmental matters.
Ostensibly intended to review the two parties approaches to animal welfare, the major discussion point (alongside impassioned attacks on the badger cull from all present) was not the Hunting Act or wildlife crime but whether the Greens should be standing at all. Labour supporters accuse the Greens of potentially handing the seat to the Tories by splitting the vote – a similar complaint no doubt made by the Conservatives to the UKIP candidate in 2017. In this election the Liberal Democrat’s George James has stood aside as part of an electoral pact between the party, the Greens and Plaid Cymru; polling does, however, still suggest that Stroud will be narrowly won by the Conservatives.
Where does this leave pro-wildlife, pro-environment voters in Stroud – or in fact leave anyone weighing up how to elect pro-wildlife candidates across the UK? From an animal welfare standpoint there are actually few differences between the Greens and Labour. Their manifestos are strikingly similar, with strong commitments to eg strengthen the Hunting Act, end the badger cull, and review industrial-scale shooting. They’re in stark contrast to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts here and here.
Where Labour and the Greens do differ, as Molly Smith Cato explained (much to the chagrin of a member of the audience who seemed confused about what hustings are for, and complained that Professor Cato had just been given time to deliver a party political statement) are in their stance on Brexit and changing the ‘broken’ first-past-the-post voting system which inherently disadvantages smaller parties. She also suggested that had Labour wanted to be part of a strategic alliance they had been given the opportunity after the last election when the Green party had stood aside for a string of Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates to help prevent Theresa May from winning a majority only to see Labour pile into the Brighton ward and attempt to unseat the Greens’ sole MP, Caroline Lucas.
These were undoubtedly good points, but listening on as a campaigner who just wants to see wildlife treated far better, it was frustrating to hear. How does highlighting differences between people who actually want much the same things help wildlife in the meantime?It doesn’t. As Dominic and I discuss in the podcast below, our fractious and fractured political system, built upon opposition rather than consensus, hasn’t appeared to help plummeting wildlife populations or our battered environment very much at all.
However, as Dominic (who because of his role as chief-executive of a charity mustn’t lobby for one political party over any other this close to an election) also suggests, the rise and rise of movements like Extinction Rebellion and the Climate Strikes will mean that whichever party wins on December 12th our politics will change.
That remains to be seen of course. But what this bitter election has proved is that those of us who genuinely care about biodiversity rather than pay it lip service must work together if we want to change anything for the better.
“….It doesn’t matter what our politics are, it doesn’t matter who we are, what socio-economic background, we’ve got to work together to find solutions…”
Dominic Dyer and Charlie Moores | Animal Welfare post-General Election