Battling vivisection in the courts

Next week the UK Government is set to try to overturn a

Whether animals should have rights and to what extent is open to debate, but few people believe they should be denied legal protection from abuse and unnecessary suffering.

Those who defend animal experiments in the UK often quote our ‘strict regulations’, aware that the majority of British voters (over eighty per cent at the last count) are quite rightly against experiments on animals that cause pain, suffering and lasting harm. So they claim our tight regulations ensure animals are only used as a last resort and that those that are used don’t really suffer.

The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) has shown through the courts that when these claims are actually tested they are proven to be at best misleading, and more often complete nonsense.

Next week the UK Government is set to try to overturn a 2007 High Court ruling that it has been unlawfully licensing animal experiments. The judge presiding over the Judicial Review brought by the BUAV ruled that the government had been misleading the public by licensing experiments that would clearly cause ‘substantial’ suffering as ‘moderate’.

The case was sparked by an undercover investigation undertaken by the BUAV in a Cambridge University neuroscience Lab in 2000/01. The resulting footage showing monkeys left without painkillers after having their brains exposed, and strokes induced during gruelling surgery, was featured by the BBC’s Newsnight and others and unsurprisingly caused widespread outrage and calls for an inquiry.

The judgement should mean fewer licences causing ‘substantial’ suffering are granted, as correctly categorised ‘substantial’ procedures will not pass the key cost (to the animal): benefit (to research) test. It should also mean that the percentage of licences categorised as ‘substantial’ – a wholly unrealistic 2 per cent at present - will be considerably higher, and therefore offer the public a more accurate picture of the extent of animal suffering that goes on in UK Government licensed experiments.

However, the government clearly believes it is a good use of tax payers’ money to continue to fight for its right to ignore public concern and continue to throw a smokescreen over the licensing process in order to pretend that animals don’t really suffer in UK laboratories.

It is also using public money to fight for the right to withhold details of animal experiments it licenses so it can continue to make claims about minimum suffering and tight regulations without ever being held to public account.

In a landmark ruling last month the Information Tribunal paved the way for much of the secrecy surrounding animal experiments in this country to be swept away.

The Tribunal ruled that the government’s interpretation of what information should be withheld as confidential was too restrictive and legally wrong.

Last month’s ruling was the latest victory in the BUAV’s long campaign to get the government to be more open about the animal experiments it licenses in the UK to allow proper and informed public debate.
True to form the Home Office is appealing this ruling too. The appeal will be heard by the High Court in April.

It is clearly unsupportable in a modern democracy for the state to defend a controversial practice without being required to provide evidence to support that defence. And an informed, reasoned debate is not possible unless the facts are available. But perhaps the last thing some animal researchers want is an informed debate?

Michelle Thew is chief executive of The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection). The BUAV has been campaigning for over 100 years for a world where no-one wants or believes we need to experiment on animals.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times