I have approached this as a sort of summary of the day in the form of a bit of storytelling with a splash of information on how to lobby your MP, based on my crash course in situ today. If you want to approach your MP I hope you will find it useful and it contains some information on the cull. I have to issue a warning that some of the details about the methodology and effect of culling are graphic. Please do not read further if it will upset you. It upsets me too but I am the sort of person who likes to have as much knowledge as possible to use in these types of campaigns. Also I made very brief notes and most of it just landed in my head to draw on when needed.
OK. Here goes….
Well what an interesting day. I emailed the League Against Cruel Sports yesterday to say that I would be attending the Lobbying MPs today in preparation for the debate which takes place today. I mett some RSPCA representatives, and others outside and went through all of the security. I was frisked.I wore my bowler for the occasion but I had to remove it to show that I did not have a badger hidden in there.
Whilst we were waiting to go into the Room where various speakers were going to teach us how to lobby and arm (pardon the pun) us some facts to stave off any opposition and educate our MPs further, I met some interesting people. Bill Oddie came in and I also met an executive from Blue Badger and the Conservatives Against Foxhunting Group. She asked me to contact her so that we could talk more. Briefly she explained that there are 26 Tories who are anti bloodsports and that we need to support them as it is very difficult for them to deal with the pressure from their own party members who tow the party line. I will certainly contact her and learn more about her work.
We were taken to Room 112 where there were many speakers. I stayed to hear three people talk until I felt I had a good enough understanding to lobby my MP and discuss any issues that came up.
One speaker was Gavin Grant who is the RSPCA Chief Executive
Another was Bill Oddie who is one of the Vice Presidents of the RSPCA
Another was Robbie Marsland who is the Country Director of the IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
This is a summary of the facts that were presented by these three people as being useful for lobbying MPs about the badger cull.
The statistics quoted
The Government are presenting statistics that make it look like Bovine TB is the main reason that farmers kill their cattle (apart from meat). In fact it only kills 4-6% of the national cattle and is ranked 4th.
No 1 is infertility
No 2 is lameness
No 3 is mastitis
No 4 is bovine TB
Implementing the cull and the spread of Bovine TB
If you attack an area the wildlife flee, of course. Logically, the number of animals who flee will increase according to the lifespan of the cull. Badgers with Bovine TB will infect other areas with no bovine TB. Culling an area would take 6 weeks.
This is an issue of good science versus legend and myth. it is not based on emotional reactions which is what anti cullists are being accused of.
The so called “pilot” cull is not designed to find out what happens next about the level of bovine infection. It is to find out how quickly and efficiently you can kill the badgers.
The whole methodology is flawed. The marksmen will be trained for one day. They would be shown diagrams of badgers and the position that the targets are “meant to adopt” to reveal the heart area. The majority that are hit will be wounded and go to ground and the licence does not allow the badgers to be moved when gone to ground.
The ammunition that would be used are 2 mile high velocity bullets. These would be used in the dark by people who have been “trained” for one day. So there is a safety concern regarding people, other livestock and farmers’ own pets.
The argument that there is no alternative is false. Wales used annual trapping and vaccination for their badgers.
There is an argument put forward that there is a problem with vaccinating cattle. This is because the vaccination produces the same reaction as bovine Tb so you cannot tell if a cow had bovine Tb or appears to have because it has been vaccinated.
There is a solution to this that is being developed called the DIVA test. This is Distinguish Infection and Vaccinated Animals.
The concern is all about trade. Continental Europe is bovine TB free and they do not want it back. Obviously. If DIVA testing is carried out there is no issue for dairy and meat products.There is a free market and you cannot discriminate if controls are in place. The Government will say that this will not be ready for years. That is misinformation. It is going through the approval process and will be available soon.
Indications are that even if the badgers are culled, the farmers will still find themselves in the same position because the science is “bad” and the methodology flawed.
Bill Oddie said that Owen Paterson made a comment about how it would be best to remove the “wildlife” – note the wording, not badgers, “wildlife”
I spoke to Robbie Marsland in the lobby whilst waiting for Andy Love. He was giving me a few hints and advised me to remember that people do not always know what is going on in the news and that this includes MPs. He said that I should look upon Parliament as a kind of private boarding school where the rumour machine is the main way that things get around and get brought up for discussion. They will notice that there are a lot of people about and someone will remark that it is about the badgers and then it will get them talking.That is how the Parliamentary machine works. You create a buzz and Robbie said that us being there is adding to the buzz. He told me not to assume that the majority of MPs know everything that is happening with the cull and that part of the role of lobbying is to educate them about the facts.
The process of Lobbying
Talk to some experts so that you have the facts. I had quite an easy task in that respect becaue my MP Andy Love is anti cull. You have to think of it as Sales. I had some sales training as I have done a lot of sales in the past. If my MP was pro cull, he would have given me reasons that he thinks that the cull should be implemented. I would have prepared in advance and raised objections to each of his pronouncements.
(A little aside and a little coincidence. One of the people who taught me a lot about sales was a gentleman called Mel Stride. He went to Oxford and then started his own sales company. I worked for him in the summer break when I was a mature student at University studing Sociology. He was MD of a conference company called Careers In Industry. They ran WOLCE, World Open Learning Conference and Exhibition, the Business Security Exhibition and Graduate Recruitment Fairs. I worked on WOLCE selling seminars relating to open learning, which was new then, to Managing Directors and Training and Development Managers at the conference. Mel taught me a lot about overcoming objections and closing a deal. I was good at it and after I left Uni I worked for them on the British Franchising Exhibition selling stand space to exhibitors. I had googled Mel about year ago on a whim and discovered that he had become an MP. That surprised me. I actually saw him today in the House Of Commons and it kind of reunited me with my sales head )
The process of lobbying is that you have to go to the desk in the main lobby and request a green form. Then you go into a room on the left and there is writing space and pens. The form is easy to complete, just record the name of your MP, your details, the reason you wish to speak with him/her and the time that you will be leaving the House. It is best to put your mobile number on too so that you can be traced if you go to a talk or the cafe. You hand the green form in to an usher at the desk and they attempt to track down your MP and say that you wish to see him/her. Apparently your request can take anything from ten minutes to one hour to reach your target MP. I went and had some coffee and interesting conversation with other lobbyists. Then I returned to the lobby.
Andy Love did not keep me waiting for too long and even apologised for delaying me at all. He invited me for a pot of tea in the House Of Commons Tea Room, where an MP has to invite you. It is called the Pugin Room and Andy pointed out a portrait of Pugin and explained that he was the person who designed the interior and furnishings of the House. He had previously been involved in church design.(Pugin not Andy Love) By the way I also learned that the chandeliers are cheap replicas, not worth much.
We did get round to talking about the badgers (after a Lord came in and was chatting to Andy and he swept his hand up to gesture about something and knocked a pot of coffee over. So Andy had to get a replacement and the waiters were trying to rearrange the slip covers until we said it is fine as it is, no problem, we are cool)
I thought it might be best to approach this as though I was interviewing him about the cull and then see how the conversation developed.
I asked Andy what was actually happening tomorrow at the debate and how it would affect the process. He said that it is just a debate and members do register their vote on whether they are pro or anti but that it does not commit the government to any action or otherwise.. He said the purpose is to really gauge what the overriding view is. The people that they take note of are the MPs who do not have a view either way as they are the ones who could be lobbied and sway the vote eventually. Someone will count them. He said that these kind of debates are scheduled for a Thursday as it is normally quieter as MPs who live out of London start to wander off home. He said it is a strategy. He added that the good thing about this debate is that members are being emailed to be asked to attend rather than it being a case of whoever turns up does, as is often the case.
I asked what the next stage in the process would be. He said that it would be useful if many MPs put on record that they are anti cull as this would mean that the Government would have to work a lot harder at substantiating their arguments.
I said none of us believe that the cull has been postponed because of the ludicrous reason that they have put forward as everything they have cited did not come unexpectedly, the Olympics, er we knew about that, the weather, er we know what it is like, er the badgers going to ground in the winter is a yearly event. Andy agreed that these reasons are just fabrications and he thinks that something else is behind it all. The most ludicrous thing is that they are talking about percentages and then they “discover” that they have underestimated how many badgers there are.
Andy said you cannot trust farmers to count them anyway, as they are not interested. They have a different view of the badger. They see them as a nuiscance, wrecking crops and ruining land. They would rather all of them were killed. I said of course the farmers do not like them. They do not bring any money in for them. I emphasised that the issue here is about bovine Tb so other grievances that farmers have with badgers are irrelevent to this debate and cannot be used as grounds for the cull.
I added that the point is that the farmers will still be in the same position if a cull does take place as the rationale for the cull is not based on good science. The figures do not make sense. He said that this is why it needs to be investigated more and truer figures come out.
He said that the Government tend to think that people will accept it if the culling is done humanely. He said that no killing of animals is done humanely. He said, take foxes for example, the Tories maintain that if you shoot them and they just get injured and run off, they will slowy die and be unable to go about their business in the meantime.Problem solved.He agreed that this is not humane.
I explained to him that the method that they are planning to use on the badgers is not at all humane plus there are other issues. Firstly, badgers are tough and are not easy to kill with one shot. I have learned that marksmen, who would be given one day’s training are told that when the badger takes a certain position (as if they would on cue) then you aim for the heart. The majority of badgers would just get injured and run off and go to ground. The licenses would not allow the cullers to take the badgers away once they have gone to ground so the animals would die in an agonising way, bleeding to death. Apart from that being extreme cruelty, there is a safety issue for farmers’ family, livestock and other pets and the public, because they would be using high resolution bullets which have a firing range of two miles. All in the dark and in the hands of marksmen who have had one day’s training. The whole thing is just barbaric and ridiculous.
I continued to explained what I had learned about the science. Badgers would run from an area when the culling starts and would move into areas that are on the borders and actually carry TB into other counties or areas. The Goverment envisage that the operation would take place over six weeks. Can you imagine how many badgers would flee during that time?
Also the government seem pretty ignorant about badgers. They think that they would remain contained because of the River Severn and the M5 motorway. Em badgers swim and as Gavin Grant put it, badgers will cross motorways if it is on their route, a flashing red sign saying “Do Not Cross Badgers” will not stop them. So what are they going to do anyway? Build motorways and instal rivers to contain them.
I said that the view is that if the cull went ahead the farmers would find themselves in the same position that they are in now. Andy did not disagree. I said well, what next? Who or what would they target next? Andy said it is just a way of avoiding looking at the issues as the farmers are staunch Tory voters and always will be.
I said that one of the main issues for me is that this Government is trying to implement a cull based on evidence that does not fit and that if they get away with this and it goes ahead what is to stop them from moving on to something else afterwards. I explained that I am campaigning on behalf of the animals because I am sentimental about them but I am approaching this from an analyticla view as I feel that this is the way to kill the cull.
Andy said that he would defintely be going to the debate tomorrow and that he will talk to some colleagues as they need their vote as anti cull on record to force the Government to go back to the science and shoot themselves in the foot by the plans for the cull not standing up to scrutiny.
I asked Andy (I do not pull any punches. I like to get to the nitty gritty) what his feeling is about how this will evolve. He said that this time next year we will be coming closer to the election and that will defintely be on the Government’s mind. He said that the farmers’ vote is solidly Tory but they will not want to lose other voters. The next election is going to be tricky and they will need all the votes that they can get. He said to remember that the farmers have had a very hard year due to the weather and that the Tories have been able to get them on side with this due to that too. I said that we need to work on the farmers to prove to them that the cull is not a good decision and that it will not solve the problem.
I said that the Government have pulled this stunt of deferring the cull to halt the momentum and hope that people will forget. However we could turn it on its head and keep badgers on the agenda by raising awareness and actually gather more momentum for next year. He said that it would be good but that we will have to work hard as the Government see public opinion as fickle. I said well, I hope I am wrong but I imagine that they might try to stir up something else early next year to take the focus away from the badgers to try to carry it out. I said we will be watching out for that tactic. He just nodded. Again,he did not disagree.
My thoughts after today…I feel more hopeful and I have a better understanding now of the process. I met some really interesting and influential people so I am going to email them individually to thank them for the information they gave me and to update them on how my meeting with Andy Love went. Good contacts to have for future issues. I will also keep in touch with Andy Love.
One funny thing that occured to me. Do you know how it is when you watch Parliament or a clip of them on the news and they all mumble and nod and say hear hear etc. Well, when we were being briefed and prepared for lobbying I caught myself doing the same, nodding and mumbling and even saying things out loud, like rubbish and for god’s sake etc. Oh lawks. I did laugh at myself when I realised.
I will write more badger related posts as things evolve.