Last week’s local elections were marked by many phenomena, but one of them was that for the first time in UK political history, an ‘animal party’ won a seat at the ballot box. The party was Animal Welfare Party, and the candidate was me. So how did we do this, and why?
The ‘why’ here, for me, is that humans represent only 0.01% of life on earth – but in the vast majority of decisions made by governments and local authorities, the needs of the other 99.99% are barely considered at all. There are various reasons for this, and all of them tragic: humans have come to see themselves as the dominant species; many people don’t consider other animals at all in everyday decisions as consumers; and finally, in local as in national politics, animals “don’t vote” and therefore don’t count much to most serving representatives.
Is this just ‘the way of the world’, and something we should live with? For me, the answer is unequivocally no. The way of the world is that there are many species, all of which have their own intrinsic value. We humans may live as though other species don’t matter, but ultimately we pay a high price – we can only live that way if we disconnect almost completely from the world around us, which impoverishes us physically, morally and spiritually.
Every factory farm, abattoir, zoo, test lab, hunt and game shoot in our land falls under the supposedly watchful eye of one local authority or another. Animal exploitation doesn’t just happen on someone else’s patch – it’s much too widespread for that. It happens on all our doorsteps, therefore we need to consider the needs and rights of other animals at the most local level, from parish councils outwards.
Once, we tolerated human slavery on a huge scale; it took some exceptional people to dismantle the concept of slavery and show how wrong it was. Not so long ago, women couldn’t vote in this country; fairly recently, homosexuality was considered a crime. As humans, we’re at our best when we take a long, hard look at our world and try to make things better – and we desperately need to make it better for animals and their habitats.
In 2017, in office as a Green Party town councillor in Alsager, Cheshire, I’d switched to Animal Welfare Party because I felt so strongly about the need to end animal exploitation that I wanted it to be my priority in politics. So in the local elections this month, I was standing as an AWP candidate for the first time, against candidates from the Lib Dems, Labour and Conservatives. Crunch time.
On the day, I successfully defended my seat – Animal Welfare Party’s first-ever win in an election – with 9.8% of the vote, and beating three Labour and two Conservative hopefuls (the other seats went to LibDems).
It’s worth saying here that we campaigned with very little budget and, notably, with a 100% ‘positive’ campaign, choosing in our election leaflet to focus entirely on what we’d already done for Alsager or planned to do next rather than criticising any other parties. We found we had plenty to show and say, without entering into the toxic mud-slinging that seemed to characterise so many other larger parties’ election materials.
During my time as an AWP councillor I’d made Alsager the first town council in the UK to explicitly request wildlife tunnels in every new planning application; I’d vehemently opposed the government’s unscientific and inhumane badger cull in Cheshire; I’d helped Alsager become the first Cheshire town with a stand-alone pollinator action plan (in the absence of action from the Tory borough council); and I’d also campaigned hard against the borough’s use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate in our parks and playgrounds. All that hard work also meant we could run a really positive electoral campaign which made us stand out from the crowd.
In Alsager, I feel we won because of sheer hard work for people, animals and environment locally, and for being able to show our achievements simply and honestly. In politics, integrity and good grace can often seem thin on the ground, especially during election time.
We didn’t have a large animal rights voter base in one ward of a typical semi-rural Cheshire town – but what we did have was ordinary people who acknowledge and respect hard work for people, animals and environment that comes from a philosophy of fairness and compassion. If we’ve proved something, it’s that working locally with the wellbeing of all living things in mind can not only be done – it can also be rewarded at the ballot box.
I hope this will encourage others to stand up and be counted at every level of human politics to help make the world a better, fairer place for all of us - regardless of species.
Jane Smith sits on the Alsager town council in Cheshire