In the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
Today a motion by Councillor Dan Brember was put before Dorset County Council for debate and a vote. A strongly worded rebuke of government’s badger culling policy and a plea to use a science-based approach to tackle bTB, the motion was always going to raise the hackles of certain councillors. Still, there was hope at least for a vigorous debate and a show of support from those councillors who understood and appreciated the overwhelming scientific consensus that killing badgers is not the solution to addressing TB in cattle. Sadly the Conservative majority had no intention of even allowing this motion to be debated.
Before the debate began, Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare challenged the report from the Director of Environment, which had been sent to all Councillors along with the motion. The question we posed was:
Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare are a group of local people who oppose the culling of badgers on both moral and scientific grounds and promote vaccination and improved welfare and biosecurity on farms as an effective and humane means of dealing with TB in both cattle and badgers. We support Councillor Brember’s motion to the Council, but take issue with the briefing note in your agenda papers. It suggests that scientific consensus, especially from those involved in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), supports the current badger culling programme being rolled out by the government. Nothing could be further from the truth. The quotes used in the briefing paper are woefully out of date. Quoted in The Guardian on 13 October 2012, Prof Lord Krebs, architect of the RBCT, states “The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.” We contend that the briefing paper is also cherry-picking data to support the governments case. In addition, lead scientist of the RBCT Professor John Bourne contends that scientific opinion is overwhelmingly against the cull and states, “I just don’t know anyone who is really informed who thinks this is a good idea”. Given that current scientific consensus, especially among those scientists who were behind the £50m ten-year-long Randomised Badger Culling Trial, is now firmly against culling badgers, why is it that the briefing paper appears to paint the opposite picture?
The disappointing reply that came back was, “Given that the cull is being instigated by a government department, it is only right that the evidence used by the government to support its action is presented to the County Council”. Right, no matter whether that ‘evidence’ is based on sound science or not? The Cabinet Member for Environment went on to claim “there is a lack of published data to support the suggestion that culling will not reduce the incidence of bovine TB. It is for that reason that no counter argument is presented”. It’s difficult to know where to begin when dealing with such blatant misinformation, so we’ll leave this for another day, it requires a much fuller, dedicated, post. Back to the “debate”.
No sooner had Dan Brember introduced his motion when Conservative Councillor Hillary Cox proposed an “amendment”. To call this an amendment is like calling the new Council building in Charles Street an annex. This was a gutting that ripped out the heart of the motion and replaced it with straw. Here’s what Councillor Cox proposed:
To delete al words in the motion after “damaging” in line one, ands to substitute the following words in bold:
“This Council recognises the serious and damaging impact which bovine TB has on animal welfare and the economics of farming.
The County Council also recognises that dealing with the problem of bovine TB is a matter for the Government and Parliament at national level and, locally, for the County Council’s tenant farmers under the conditions of their tenancies.
The Council urges the Government to be led by the best available science in finding a solution to the problems associated with bovine TB and. when implementing a solution, to ensure that it is the most humane available.”
The Chairman then directed Councillors to now only debate and comment on this amendment, which would then be up for a vote. Now it’s important at this stage to point out that Dorset for Badger and Bovine welfare is not party political, but the way this played out was certainly party politics at its worst. The makeup of Dorset County Council is as follows; the Chair, Leader of the Council, Deputy and all Cabinet members are Conservative. There are a total of 27 Conservative Councillors; the total remaining Councillors number 18. Voting as a block, the Conservative Councillors effectively shut out all debate on the most pertinent issues and didn’t allow for the original motion, which had significant non-Conservative support, to get the airing it deserved. The original motion was never even voted on, instead the weakened toothless amended motion was passed, 26 to 12.
Today it wasn’t just badgers, bovines and science that lost out, it was democracy itself.