14 JANUARY 1995, Page 7


Now the protesters have a new group of creatures who will never answer back


We are invited to believe that Mr Walde- grave is hypocritical and cruel. No matter that his farm manager sells male calves in the same way as any other farm manager in Britain, and that if he did not do so he would find no market for them. No matter that every aspect of the thing is legal and above board, and that this is an established trade rather than a new venture. That is not good enough. According to Sir Andrew Bowden, who is a Conservative MP, whoso- ever harms one of these little ones by how- ever remote a degree it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea, or words to that effect. It is Sir Andrew's view that all Mr Walde- grave's calves should be slaughtered rather than put in those crates. He wants a futile gesture at this stage. I could not see Sir Andrew, because he was speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4, but I expect he was wearing leather shoes and quite possibly had milk in his coffee.

There is something so mad about all of this that one finds oneself pushed to the opposite extreme. 'So what,' I almost hear myself saying, 'if some calves are squashed together a bit and cannot go gambolling over the fields? It is a small price to pay for more succulent veal.' This is a mistaken reaction, probably, because although human sustenance and health, and even human comfort and pleasure, are far more important than the equivalent for animals and should generally be preferred if the interests of the two conflict, it does sound as if these crates are cruel, and to be cruel is to be subhuman. 'It is contrary to human dignity,' says the new Roman Catholic cate- chism, 'to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.' It is on roughly this principle, in fact, that Mr Waldegrave and his prede- cessors have been acting. They have banned the crates in Britain, they want them banned throughout the European Community, and they have insisted on stricter rules about the transporting of live- stock. Mr Waldegrave is suffering, not for the first time, for being a humane politician who is interested in doing the right thing. Fanatics hate people like that. If he had never shown the slightest concern for ani- mal welfare they would, paradoxically, have been less beastly (if one may still use the word thus) to him. I heard the other day of a priest who let some Indians use his church hall this Christmas season. There was a crib in the hall, and, after the Indians had left, he found that every figure in it had been smashed except for that of the cow. We seem to be reaching a similar state of mind in our white population, but without the teachings of Hinduism to lend coherence to the adoration of animals. The passage from the catechism quoted above goes on to say, `It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them [animals] that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals. One should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.' More and more people in Britain appear to reject these propositions. 'Meat is murder' they daub on the window of some inoffensive butcher, and do not seem to mind a scrap that human foetuses are being killed every day at a hospital near them. Instead of rejoicing at the return of the Prodigal Son, they would fuss about killing the fatted calf. It is often said that people only become behind the bike caught them praying sheds.' sentimental about animals when they no longer work with them, earn their living out of them, or have to kill them or see them killed. This is probably true, but it does not explain the virulence of feeling so often shown now. It is perfectly understandable that people are squeamish about seeing animals die or seeing their blood and guts, or even about eating their flesh. Some peo- ple find meat disgusting, rather in the way that some are disgusted by sex. (I wonder if those two disgusts go together.) These are matters of taste. But with the people who are hysterical against Mr Waldegrave and breaking the windows of lorries at Shore- ham we are dealing with something else.

Until recent years, those who enjoyed venting moral outrage against the institu- tions of the society in which they lived could do so in the name of the proletariat. The proletariat was too large, too distant, too poor and too ignorant to have much say among the counsels of those who protested in its name. You could use the cause of the workers as the channel for your hatred of your parents or housemaster or other rep- resentatives of authority confident that the workers would not answer back. Now that has changed. Workers have cars and own houses and do answer back. They are no longer exploited enough to be interesting: indeed, they have a nasty way of catching up with your own standard of living. So it is time for the caravan of protest to move on, and it finds that it can park most safely among animals. Here is a whole world of creatures who will never answer back. And whereas the relations between men and men cannot always be relied on to rest on exploitation, those between men and ani- mals can. There is a heady prospect of eter- nal wrong, of grievance without end, of screaming at Mr Waldegrave and his suc- cessors to the crack of doom, of being able to hate humanity and feel good about doing so at the same time.

It is not surprising that people like this exist. They appear in different guises in every generation — image-breakers in churches, temperance fanatics, commu- nists, Mr Peter Tatchell — but it is alarm- ing that they can set up such a hue and cry that the Conservative Party has to treat them respectfully.

It is outrageous that 'animal lovers' can threaten and embarrass Mr Waldegrave, whom I suspect of being the last minister in the Cabinet to know how to milk a cow.