There's something exciting about seeing people getting passionate about politics, and enthused about animals. On Thursday, I witnessed both those things in equal measure, and it was great!
In the morning, we joined staff of the retailer Lush to launch a two week campaign called Votes for Animals. Lush are incredibly passionate about animal welfare, and all their stores over the next couple of weeks will be highlighting the campaign and asking their customers to think about animals when they cast their vote at the general election.
The day started at their (amazing) new shop in Oxford Street, London, and we were joined by our campaign partners Common Decency - led by Brian May - and Animal Aid. Our own Vice President Peter Egan added his gravitas and humour to the event, and we were also joined by Marc Abrahams, known widely to TV viewers and Twitter followers as Marc the Vet!
Shoppers and tourists in London were somewhat stunned to see over a hundred people dressed in Edwardian costumes and wearing (amazing) animal masks as we marched to Parliament. The campaign is paying respect to the Suffragette movement of the early 20th century, hence the costumes, but this time we're saying it's about time animals had a voice. We're not asking that foxes actually get the vote, of course! But we and our campaign partners believe that compassion and consideration for animals should be a part of our political framework - meaning that laws should be in place protecting animals from those willing to hurt them.
Back at the Lush store in the afternoon, we hosted a political 'hustings' event featuring key animal welfare spokespeople from the political parties. Chaired by Peter Egan, the debate featured Barry Gardiner, Labour candidate for Brent North and spokesperson for the environment and animal welfare; Baroness Kate Parminter, Lib Dem spokesperson on Defra and animal welfare issues; Caroline Allen, Green Party spokesperson on animal welfare; and Councillor Tom Bursnall, UKIP animal welfare spokesperson.
Unfortunately, the Conservative Party were unable to send a spokesperson, but we were lucky to be joined by Lorraine Platt, founder of Blue Fox and Blue Badger, organisations which oppose hunting and the badger cull.
The debate produced many interesting thoughts and statements, most of which I can't include here for the sake of space. Some key moments however were:
Lorraine Platt: "Most Conservative MPs are pro-repeal of the Hunting Act. Conservative supporters must show their leaders that they are not representing the will of the majority of people. It is vital for the public to remind candidates to support the hunting ban."
Barry Gardiner: "Remember, being a nice person is one thing, but in politics the thing that matters is taking action to stop the nasty people from harming animals. After the election, only two people will be Prime Minister, David Cameron or Ed Miliband. If Ed is Prime Minister, he will take actions that stop the suffering."
Kate Parminter: "Charities like the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA should be given more respect for the job they do in investigating animal abuses and crime."
Caroline Allen: "Our vision is to see the end of animal suffering, and our manifesto contains many pledges to do that. We got a lot of stick and personal abuse recently for our position on horse racing, but the animals don't have a voice so we need to be that voice."
Tom Bursnall: "We want to triple jail sentences for animal cruelty. It's okay to say 'ban this', or 'ban that', but if the perpetrators don't get proper sentences then all that banning is pointless. UKIP has no aspirations or aims to repeal the hunting ban."
Questions were also asked about the Hunting Act, particularly to Labour and the LibDems. Barry Gardiner explained how the Hunting Act is the best enforced wildlife legislation, though said that Labour wouldn't attempt to strengthen it if they were in government in case that led to it being repealed.
Baroness Parminter said that the LibDems had been protecting the Hunting Act and battling against the badger cull while in government; however in terms of there potentially being a free vote on the Hunting Act if the Conservatives have a majority, she said: "I can't say what will happen if we enter into a coalition."
Plenty to chew over! We'd like to say thank you to all the speakers for attending, and to Brian, Peter and Marc for coming along, but most of all to the (amazing) Lush staff, a truly committed group of people who epitomise values which we share - passion for animals, and a professionalism in their work. With people like that in the world, we've all got a chance of it becoming a better place.
Find out where your election candidates stand on key animal welfare issues by going to the League Against Cruel Sports action page