Sean, A friend of mine, is writing a children's book called Thomas The Search Engine. It's the story of a brave little piece of software that is constantly pursued by a repressive Home Secretary who wants to gobble up all of Thomas's information so that he can make the world safe for his friends in the Mega Global Business Corporation.
The information that Jack Straw wants to get his hands on most concerns animal rights activists he thinks they're worse than IRA bombers, does our Jack. He says he needs extra powers to take on these gigantic threats to the safety of the world. In fact, animal rights activists have always been treated very harshly by the courts.
While wall-eyed sectarian killers are set free in Ireland to resume their programme of intimidation and harassment of entire communities, Barry Horne, for example, is serving an 18-year prison term for arson. (He was found guilty of leaving some small incendiary devices in a closed branch of Boots). He has never knowingly harmed anybody, he has never intended to injure anybody, and yet he gets a much much harsher sentence than would be given to Herod for child murder.
Animal rights activists seem to be the new bogeymen so terrifying that the laws are not sufficient to protect us from them. They are very useful too in that any unexplained acts of violence can be laid at their door. There was an incident a year or two ago where a huge drum that had been used for telephone cable was rolled down a river bank narrowly missing some fishermen. It was front-page headlines at the time "Animal Lib Loonies target anglers" type thing. A few days later, in one or two papers, there was a tiny paragraph tucked away at the bottom of page seven or eight saying that, in fact, it was some children who had pushed the drum down the bank for a joke. However, the impression remained with most of the public that this action, and many others falsely laid at their door, was the work of the animal libbers.
A great number of people find caring about animals vaguely embarrassing and think it sentimental. For my part I hope I am not sentimental I don't feel I owe animals anything: after all, animals don't buy my books or come to my shows ( apart from some chickens that one time in Southend) but I think we, as a society, are morally tainted by the appalling cruelty that goes on in those labs. Mr Straw said last week, as if it was undeniable, that: "It is worth bearing in mind that many of us ourselves would not be able to lead healthy lives were it not for the pharmaceutical companies being able to test their drugs on animals."
This is exactly the point in question. Thalidomide tested safe on animals, while if aspirin or penicillin were new to the market today they would be rejected as unsafe (they are poisonous to cats and hamsters). The point about animal testing is that it is cheap compared to more rigorous and effective ways of testing drugs. The pharmaceutical companies like cheap, and theGovernment is in the pocket, if not the underpants, of these companies.
Mr Straw is using the fact that some animal rights activists have protested outside the homes of laboratory employees and damaged five cars belonging to researchers as an excuse to widen his powers.
Now I find myself in a bit of a cleft stick on this one. On the one hand, I don't care about these illegal acts. I think for what they do vivisectionists deserve to be harassed, persecuted and pursued. I simply cannot understand how somebody can chop up live creatures for a living. Mutilation of animals is usually seen as being the first step on the road to becoming a serial killer, isn't it?
However, I do understand that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, not to mention that one man's tandoori keema nan is another man's stylish minced-meat-filled hat; so I am aware that people with whom I violently disagree (such as anti-abortion activists) also think it is perfectly legitimate to use harassment, abuse and violence against people who, I think, are very brave and decent. A healthy democratic society needs to be able to accommodate those who feel so strongly about their cause that they are prepared to step outside the law if they think the law is wrong.
What I propose is that we need some kind of commission, staffed by philosophers, learned legal minds and ballerinas. This commission would deliberate on the issues and would then tell us exactly which illegal activities are right and which illegal activities are absolutely, morally wrong. Then the Government could really crack down on the wrong ones and leave the right ones alone.
Of course, if by some freak of justice the verdict of the Illegal Activities Commission went against me and the causes I hold dear, I'd set fire to their building.
© 2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.