The first time I met Ben Bradshaw was when he shared a platform with me at a Labour Party Conference where I was talking about greyhound racing. He had only recently been appointed Minister at DEFRA, took his chair announcing that he knew nothing about greyhound racing, had another engagement to go to, and could I be quick. I could, I was and he was gone.
I didn’t expect him to know anything about greyhound racing. I don’t expect many MPs about to vote on the Animal Welfare Bill and how it will affect the welfare of the racing greyhounds, know anything either. Not even the members of the greyhound racing lobby, because they will have been shown the glossy side. The bar, the restaurant and the dogs running under the lights. However, I would hope that some MPs, at least, will look up the APGAW Report which was set up in the wake of Seaham and the response that that got from the public. I have been reading the letters that went into the Racing Post and I had forgotten how many owners and trainers expressed, not just their disgust, but their anger at the industry’s declared shock. The very idea that this could have gone unnoticed is ridiculous but that it wasn’t reported is completely understandable. In a self-regulating business that discourages criticism or complaint you don’t blow any whistles if you want to keep your job.
The next time I met Ben Bradshaw was at a reception held by APGAW. I tried to explain to him how self-regulation was the huge obstacle to any improvement for the dogs when he recoiled from me, telling me to leave him alone. I was a fundamentalist and he doesn’t talk to those. And he was gone again.
Interesting then that while on “News Night”, during the saga of MPs expenses, he was at pains to tell how, when he became an MP, he had been shocked at a system of self-regulation which “stank” and how, ever since he has been trying to change it.
Ed Balls, too, described self-regulation as “an awful system” which had to be changed. Gordon Brown seems to disapprove. but, unless the public demand that their MPs demonstrate their ability to judge between right and wrong before they’re pushed, the dogs are to be left in the limbo they have been in for almost a century. No protection from the police or the RSPCA because the dogs belong to a business that uses the Data Protection Act like a steel shutter.
The greyhound racing industry doesn’t appreciate criticism, basicaly because it knows it has no defence against the numbers involved and the total lack of control that exists in an activity that never had a management system that would be obligatory if it was starting up now.
Much as Lord Lipsey would like us to believe that the animal welfare body are its only critics, plenty of the evidence that was submitted to the APGAW Report was from inside greyhound racing.
I suppose there are people who think that in the world, now, or at any time, animals are at the bottom of any list of priorities. A lot of us think that if you cannot or will not tackle a simple, clear case of animal cruelty resulting from self-regulation, then there’s even less hope for the more complex problems in our society.