Lucy Gavaghan
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A teenager who beat the supermarket giants on caged hens is now taking on the Tories

Lucy Gavaghan, the 14-year-old girl who fought Tesco and won, is turning her campaign to the government in her one-woman mission to end caged egg production.

Meet Lucy Gavaghan, the award-winning animal activist on a solo mission to end caged hen farming in the UK.

Already this year, she’s successfully lobbied the big supermarkets to end the sale of caged eggs by 2025, and now the 14-year-old has her sights set firmly on Westminster.

In August, she launched her third successive petition, calling for Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ban caged egg farming in the UK for good – a goal Gavaghan thinks is closer to reach than ever before.

Based in Sheffield, where she lives with her family, Gavaghan herself owns six hens –Mildred, Hazel, Sylvia, Fern, Sunshine and Pumpkin – plus a springer spaniel, two rabbits, a hamster, a fish and a Shetland pony.

Her route into animal activism began with a real-life encounter of the feathered kind. “After meeting a small flock of hens on the livery yard where my sister kept her pony, I became interested by the inquisitive and clearly complex creatures they are,” she recalls. “I began to investigate how hens are treated in the commercial world, and was immediately struck by the cramped conditions and the contrast between the hens I saw ranging freely.”

Battery cages were banned in the UK in 2012, but they were replaced by “enriched cages”, a slightly tweaked set-up that Lucy says is “barely distinguishable” from battery cages: hens spend 72 weeks in a space barely bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.

The reality is that Britain still lags behind countries like Austria, where enriched cages will be banned by 2020, and controversial beak trimming practices have been eradicated.

Activism is in Gavaghan’s blood. Her great-great-grandmother was a campaigner for Votes for Women, and her grandmother was a member of the CND. Perhaps this heritage contributed to her determination to change the practices of supermarket giants – a daunting task.

“I started writing letters to supermarkets asking them to stop selling caged hens eggs,” she says. “But the responses I received suggested no movement could be expected.”

Undeterred, Gavaghan took to to launch her first petition, directly lobbying Tesco. It swiftly received the requisite number of signatures, exceeding all of her expectations. After she had a meeting with Tesco’s head of agriculture, the company called her school a few weeks later to announce that it would be phasing out caged eggs.

“This was an amazing moment that I never expected to reach so quickly,” she tells me. “The timescale for the transition is longer than many people – including myself – had hoped for. But the change must happen as efficiently and widely as possible, which will take time.”

Her second petition was successful in getting Asda and Morrisons to commit to the same pledge.

Emotive and eloquent, Gavaghan has her campaign language down pat. While she modestly puts her campaign’s success down to a public that intrinsically understands caged farming is wrong, her digital nous is the real linchpin.

“People talk about the dangers of ‘clicktivism’ or say ‘people will just sign anything’. I personally couldn’t disagree more,” she says. “It takes a convincing petition and engaging cause to reach many people – it’s easy to sign a petition, but it’s not always easy to make someone want to. The internet and social media have given the public the power to create huge change.”

Gavaghan believes taking on the government is a bigger challenge than targeting supermarkets, and says her priority is ensuring that the changes made in this policy area are real.

“With every major change that’s made, there are risks that other areas of the industry may be compromised by a shift in egg production – if measures are not taken to ensure free-range farming is regulated at an even higher level,” she warns. “I want to increase the welfare of hens, not replace current systems with identical ones with the ambition of deceiving the general public.”

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) says humane farming is high on its agenda. A spokesperson says: “The government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare and we have some of the highest standards in the world. Every livestock farm, regardless of scale, must comply with strict legislation, including comprehensive environmental and animal welfare rules.”

While her third petition gathers pace, Gavaghan is trying to raise general awareness for the issue – there’s even a hashtag for it, #nomorecages. She has also picked up an Animal Hero Award for Young Animal Enthusiast of the Year.

But while she’s not campaigning, or at school – where she says her teachers and fellow pupils have been “really supportive” of the petitions – she likes to spend time outdoors and with her animals.

As for the future? “I’ve always wanted to work with animals, but since starting my campaign, I’m now fairly certain that I’d like to work in the animal welfare industry,” she says. “Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure, but I will definitely always be involved in campaigning to change the face of industrial farming.”

Natalie Hardwick is Features Editor of, and writes about food and drink for multiple publications.

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How conspiracy theories about the Salisbury attack tap into antisemitic tropes

Rather than blame Russia for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, some are questioning the intentions of Labour MPs. 

Shortly after the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, guests on the BBC’s Newsnight programme discussed the reaction of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Twitterati went into meltdown. Was the image of the Labour leader amid a Kremlin skyline part of a mainstream media plot to depict Jeremy as a “Soviet stooge”? Was the hat he was wearing “doctored” to look more Russian?

Much of the conspiracy material circulating online recently – and indeed the story on Newsnight about Corbyn – flowed from the shocking attack that has left Skripal and his daughter in hospital and affected many others. The government, and now EU leaders, have blamed Russia for the attack. Yet among some sections of the online left, there seemed a reluctance to point fingers. But if Russia didn’t do it, how could the matter be explained to fit a pre-existing worldview? Jews such as myself wondered how long it would be before the finger pointed at us. It wasn’t even a week before political space had been created which emboldened some to pursue the notion that not Russia but gangsters, Britain’s own research lab or yes, Israel were more reasonably the brains behind the poisoning.

One of the voices that gained traction in relation to the spy attack story belongs to former British diplomat Craig Murray, who took exception to the speed with which Russia was declared responsible. Picking up on the government line that the toxin was “of a type developed by Russia” he penned a blog entitled: “Of a type developed by liars” building on his previous piece “Russian to judgement” which contained numerous allegations, including that “Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grievously”. Murray’s work was picked up by left-wing news outlet The Canary and Evolve Politics, among others. The latter also quoted Annie Machon, a former MI5 agent who has previously supported 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Murray’s view soon entered the mainstream, with the Guardian referencing it and one Labour MP sharing a Murray tweet declaring: “Wow, if this is true Theresa May has some very serious questions to answer”. The spotlight on Murray’s theories was a worrying development given that not long before, Murray, had been speculating about another matter.

After the Labour MP John Woodcock introduced to Parliament an Early Day Motion that unequivocally accepts the Russian state’s culpability for the poisoning, Murray tweeted: “Remarkable correlation between Labour MPs who attacked Corbyn in EDM wanting no investigation into Salisbury before firmly attributing blame, and parliamentary Labour friends of Israel, I wonder why?” One can read into this statement what one wants, but to me it seemed to imply that rushing to judgement on Moscow might benefit MPs supportive of Israel, which in conspiracy world are in its pay. Certainly that’s what a number of online hounds sniffed. But rather than one type of conspiracy, Murray was apparently pointing to another. “A conspiracy to attack the leadership of Jeremy Cobyn, perhaps. If you think I was accusing them of being part of a conspiracy to kill Skripal, you are daft,” he tweeted. In short, he seems to be saying, whilst there was not a conspiracy of MPs to be a part of any plot to kill the double agent, the EDM “perhaps” represented a conspiracy to attack the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. 

Others were bolder. One Labour activist, writing about the aforementioned EDM, declared it was “worth noting one of the people sponsoring this motion is a named CIA asset”. Though unspecified, the asset referred to was believed by some to be Ruth Smeeth MP. This seemingly centres on Smeeth being named in a single diplomatic cable from 2009, released by Wikileaks, in reference to her views, when a parliamentary candidate, about an early election being called by Gordon Brown. 

Entirely unrelated to these particular tweets or Murray’s writing, Smeeth also happens to be an MP who has spoken out about antisemitism, and was forced to accept police protection following antisemitic abuse she has received online. She and another MP, John Mann, have both received antisemitic death threats. I stood next to Mann at Labour party conference as a delegate berated him, calling him a CIA agent for taking on this “antisemitism nonsense”. For me, this interaction underlined the causality between some conspiracy theories and antisemitic activity (Mann is not Jewish, but has been a prominent opponent of antisemitism in the party). 

Though it is difficult to reduce to a simple guide, allegations of Israeli conduct that draw on classic antisemitic tropes should be avoided. In recent years this has included suggestions of “organ harvesting” which draw on the antisemitic blood libel, or those that speculate about political control, such as suggestions that “the Israeli tail wags the US dog.”

Certainly, the centrality of Israel to conspiracy theory has a long history. In Mein Kampf, Hitler alleged: “All they want is a central organisation for their international world swindler, endowed with its own sovereign rights and removed from the intervention of other states.” Of course, this type of global antisemitic conspiracy theory predates Hitler. The antisemitic hoax, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is decades older. Russian in origin, it purported to reveal a meeting of Jews seeking to manipulate governments, foment war and subvert the morals of society. Today, we see a similar sentiment. Indeed, Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that Jews, or other ethnic minorities, might be behind electoral interference in America. A US lawmaker recently blamed a Jewish elite for controlling the weather and closer to home, one of the Twitter accounts that popularised the Corbyn hat conspiracy, has also shared antisemitic conspiracy theories.

With conspiracy theories transposing from the far right to the extreme left online, it is unsurprising that before long Rothschild conspiracy (secret Jewish plot) memes were posted on Labour party supporter and other forums in relation to the Salisbury poisoning. Indeed, antisemitism itself tends to attract the acrid smell of conspiracy theory. When such an act is alleged, cries of “smears” and “witch hunt” follow. Only recently, The Times reported on an MIT study which revealed that a false-news tweet is 70 per cent more likely to be retweeted than a true story. Maybe this is why allegations of Mossad collaboration with Nazis or Hitler’s support for Zionism have been so widespread.

People cannot necessarily be held responsible for falling for conspiracy theories. Trust in government is at an all-time low. Spin, scandal and economic sorrow have left people looking for alternative heroes and whomever is deemed most reliable on social media timelines will do. Conspiracy theories play into prejudices. They empower and embolden people to feel a step ahead, they provide a scapegoat and a self-satisfying rebuttal loop. Those that do know better meanwhile are perhaps worried to tackle others for fear of attack, hope for better times ahead or most worryingly, see populist conspiracy as a Trumpian route to power.

Last week, we helped organise the first ever one man show in parliament: Marlon Solomon, who will return to Edinburgh with his show “Conspiracy Theory: A Lizard’s Tale” this year. As he reminded us this week, it wasn’t so long ago that a Labour MP was stabbed to death by someone with a warped view of reality. Obsessive and distorted hatred of Israel and Jews has an effect. Conspiracy theories matter. They have real-life consequences for people. It is incumbent upon leaders across the political spectrum not to normalise or sanitise conspiracy theories, or conspiratorial antisemitism, nor to allow us to think we can “trust no one”. But then, as the conspiracists will tell you, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Danny Stone MBE is the director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust.