Why it’s time for Conservative animal rights advocates to step up

Why it's time for Conservative animal rights advocates to step up

Partisan sorting

The process of partisan sorting has significant implications for political dynamics and governance. As individuals and groups realign themselves politically based on their ideological beliefs, the risk of polarisation increases as individuals and parties become less willing to compromise or collaborate across party lines. Partisan sorting means many policies fail to win sufficient support.1 Look at the difficulties passing the mildest of gun control legislation in the USA.  

If a portrayal of animal-protective laws as left-wing becomes normalised, then we could witness new partisan sorting: left-wing voters accepting animal advocacy to their supported causes; right-wing partisans adopting the political stance of blanket rejection of the case(s) being made. Once this happens, laws protecting animals get tossed around the contested political space at the centre of our Overton Window. And should bolder laws be introduced, they risk being revoked following a change in government – look at what partisan sorting has done to abortion legislation in the USA, where politicisation has resulted in previously granted abortion rights being revoked in some Republican-led states.  

If partisan sorting creeps into animal rights issues, then any UK laws introduced by Labour might then be revoked later by Conservatives. 

Issue ownership 

If legislative gains for animals are to prove long-lasting, then left-wing parties must not acquire issue ownership of animal welfare and rights. Conservative animal advocates are very important, and there is no reason for their support to be muted. 

Conservative politicians often prioritise economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility – animal welfare legislation, when framed effectively, can align with these priorities – and many Tory MPs represent rural constituencies where agriculture and animal husbandry play a significant role in the local economy and culture. Improved animal welfare standards can lead to increased productivity in agriculture and enhanced consumer confidence in ethical products.  

Additionally, the health and well-being of both humans and animals are closely intertwined. Politicians and voters of all persuasions are increasingly aware of the public health risks associated with poor animal welfare practices, such as the spread of zoonotic diseases and antibiotic resistance. Supporting initiatives to improve animal welfare is increasingly viewed as a proactive measure to safeguard public health and reduce the incidence of preventable diseases.  

A cross-partisan political movement for animals that harnesses broad support will prove vastly more effective in consolidating animal-protective measures into our legal system precisely because it can avoid the trappings of partisan sorting.  

Being right (wing) may be right 

There is an argument to be made that it is actually the right-wing animal advocate who stands a better chance of breaking through political deadlock and persuading their fellow politicians (Conservative or otherwise) to support bolder laws for protecting animals. And with polling and pundits alike predicting a thrashing for the Conservatives in the next general election, and given the British public’s widespread support for addressing the mistreatment of animals, could a Conservative-led move to improve animal welfare be part of a rebuilding strategy? One of those win-wins politicians are so keen on. 

David Holroyd is an author, animal rights activist and honorary member of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

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Why it’s time for Conservative animal rights advocates to step up

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