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In A Caring Britain We'd Be Treating Badgers, Foxes And Hen Harriers - And People - Very Differently

14/08/2017 12:35 BST | Updated 14/08/2017 12:35 BST

On Saturday, three campaigns came together for a thousands-strong march in central London. Campaigners against the badger cull, for a strengthened ban on fox hunting and for protection of our hen harriers and other illegally persecuted raptors marched against cruelty to animals with the hashtag #crushcruelty.

It was important because this is a model that we need to see far more of - campaigns with related interests joining up to make the case for significant changes not just on one issue, but in the nature of our society.

All of these issues are immediate and pressing, and there are many groups campaigning around the country on each.

Last year 10,000 badgers were killed, and this year the number could treble, in an action that no serious experts think can do anything but make the reason given - the spread of tuberculosis in cattle - anything but worse. It's an extreme case of a government ignoring the evidence and playing politics with guns.

The march was called when it still looked like Theresa May was planning to end the ban on fox hunting, but even with that immediate threat dropped, there's much to campaign on for a strengthening of the ban to make it effective. One focus on Saturday was on the issue of trail hunting, and a call to ban it on National Trust land.

But the timing was most perfect for the campaign to protect the hen harrier and other raptors, particularly through the banning of driven grouse shooting. For Saturday was what campaigners call the Inglorious Twelfth (of August), when the season for blasting up to three-quarters of a million red grouse from the sky begins.

Chris Packham, who spoke at the rally, tweeted a picture during the day of the remains of one of the UK's rarest mammals, a wildcat, strung on a fence, labelling it "the price of grouse". Vastly more commonly, foxes, corvids, stouts and weasels are massacred on masse on moors to help produce a "shootable surplus" of red grouse - as are entirely inoffensive mountain hares, which carry a tick that can transmit disease to grouse. That makes what at first glance appears pristine wilderness actually an industrial landscape devoted to the production of just one product.

The campaigns for badgers, for foxes and for hen harriers are individual struggles, but collectively they're representative of a far broader issue - of the state of British society, the direction of its government, the physical frame in which we live, which can be summed up as "cruel Britannia".

One handmade sign on Saturday used that term, then called instead for a "kind-dom". I took a similar approach, taking inspiration from the "crush cruelty" label.

For it is crucial for campaigners today not just to campaign against what's being done wrong, but to set out their views of how we should be acting and restructuring our society.

An antonym of cruelty is "care" - and calling for a caring Britain is a great place to start not just on the issues addressed on Saturday, but on many others.

A caring Britain would be pursuing vaccination of badgers, and improved biosecurity for cattle, ending the culling and also cutting the slaughter of cows that test positive for TB. It would truly end fox hunting, and other blood "sports".

But a genuine shift to caring could go much further - in a caring Britain all of the foodbanks would have closed due to lack of demand. We'd be properly funding the NHS - and paying its staff, and indeed all public sector workers, properly. We'd be ending the push to make our schools into exam factories, and working towards an education that sets up every child to make the best of their talents and skills. We'd be providing benefits gladly, to all who need them.

We're at a time of great change now, of tremendous possibility. The cruel neoliberal, neo-Thatcherite policies that have dominated Britain in the past four decades are clearly on their way out, and there's an opportunity to build something new.

I'd argue that every campaign, every issue, needs to be understood not just in its own terms, but in that broader framework. Winning a battle over a single policy is fine, but rather than fighting issue by issue, policy by policy, we have to get much broader and more ambitious.

Real political change happens in big jumps, and Britain now, in the chaos that's followed the Brexit vote, as we fail to recover from the turmoil of the financial crisis, is a place where we can, we must, take big strides in a new direction - towards a caring society. Whatever the issues you are most personally concerned about, you can be part of that change - but to be that we have to understand that the system has to change from its very foundations, not just individual elements of it.