On the evening of the badgers debate, we put up a picture of me holding a glass up to my daughter on the terrace of the Commons.
Just in case that gave a false impression, let me be clear.
Nobody in Team Badger is celebrating our ‘victory’ in the debate. To win the vote was better than to lose – of that there is no doubt. And to achieve that took the work of a wonderful team of volunteers who worked at all levels, to inform, involve and inspire. It was made possible by 160,000 people who took the trouble to put their signatures on that petition.
But did it bring us any closer to the abandonment of the Government’s perverse badger-culling scheme? If we lived in the kind of democracy we’d all like to think we live in, it would have been a great step forward.
But when Mr Heath, even before the result of the vote was in, made it clear that the Government would not veer one inch from its intent to slaughter badgers, no matter which way the vote went, it was obvious that in their eyes, the debate was mere window-dressing. Let me say to everyone who cares about this senseless carnage, we are no better off now than we were a year ago. We have a Government which is quite clearly determined to kill, rather than vaccinate, no matter what evidence is brought to bear. Their declaration that ‘there is no U-turn’ means they are proceeding in complete contempt of science, of the will of the people, and now of Parliament. The arrogance of these ministers is truly breathtaking.
This must call into question the whole scheme of e-Petitions, and of backbench debates in general. Mr Heath in one breath claimed credit for bringing in the idea of e-Petitions, and in the next, made it clear that the debates they could bring about carried no weight. Why would anybody bother, in future, to mount an e-Petition, under the impression they might be part of democratic process? Just to be offered a placatory debate, in which MPs go through the motions of parliamentary procedure, but with no outcome? So this is democracy?
It’s all actually a very smart piece of sleight of hand by the Government, because now the 160,000 strong petition must lose not only its potential for growth, but will sit there looking like a spent force, now the debate is over. The pro-cull fraternity can now watch smugly as we try to keep beating the same drum, but have nothing new to offer. So who will stop them in their pursuit of the vile killing that they clearly crave? There is little doubt that if Cameron starts the shooting next Summer he will precipitate the ugliest wave of discontent in the public that has been seen in recent times. There is little doubt it would lose him the election. But this will be too late to save a whole generation of destroyed badger families. And too late to save the farming industry from an irretrievable and ultimately fatal alienation from the public.
It’s a ghastly mess.
We cannot rest for a moment. We British either let this happen, or we stand up and refuse to let it happen.
(PLEASE OBSERVE COPYRIGHT)