How Tony Blair and Labour Got in Bed with Animal Rights Extremists

Great Britain’s Sunday Times this month published a three page letter that highlighted once again how Tony Blair and the Labour government bear a great deal of responsibility for the current outbreak of animal rights extremism in that country. In the mid-1990s, while it was out of power, Labour actively courted animal rights groups, but the letter sent to a group opposed to animal experiments underscore how much Blair and others were willing to promise the activists.

The letter was sent in the mid-1990s to Plan 2000, a group dedicated to eliminating animal experiments by the year 2000. Elliot Morley, then Blair’s spokesman on animal welfare issues, sent the three page letter to Plan 2000 describing it as being written “on behalf of Tony Blair.”

The letter was unambiguous in saying that, “Labour is committed to seeing a reduction and the eventual end of animal experiments.” The letter went on to add, however, that such a goal might be hampered by opposition from researchers, saying,

The problem a Labour government would have is that there are doctors and scientists who are equally passionate in defence of animal experiments. The government is concerned that research companies may relocate abroad rather than expose their staff to harassment in Britain.

Blair was hardly the only Labour politician to try to appease animal rights activists. David Blunkett, currently the home secretary and the man responsible for addressing animal rights extremism in Great Britain, also wrote a letter of support to Plan 2000. Blunkett was also a patron of the Humane Research Trust, another British group dedicated to ending animal rights experiments.

Finally, the Times notes that Nick Brown, who was the agriculture secretary during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, told Plan 2000, “I am totally opposed to animal experiments.”

In 1996, Labour issued a position paper supporting a “royal commission to review the effectiveness and justification of animal experiments, and to examine alternatives.” At the same time, The Times notes, it was wooing the support of drug companies such as Pfizer and Novartis and, of course, once Labour was in power the impetus for creating a commission to reconsider animal experimentation withered on the vine.

Have Labour politicians’s earlier sympathies with the animal rights movement prevented the government from doing everything it can to quell the rise of extremism. Consider this from The Times report,

In Britain, by contrast [with the United States], ministers considered designating the ALF a terrorist organization, making fundraising illegal, but took no action. They apparently feared it could bee seen by some voters as too draconian.

So on the one hand, the government has so far failed to provide anything but a piecemeal response to rising extremism. On the other hand its early promises to activists followed by inaction once in power leave some feeling acts of violence are justified by Labour’s “betrayal.” Robert Cogswell, co-founder of Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom, tells The Times,

It is hardly surprising that people are taking the law into their own hands. We will not condemn people for these actions, because we feel it is coming out of the actions of the government.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to talk with a former speechwriter for Blair who pointed to a speech Blair gave a couple years ago in which he condemned animal rights extremism and highlighted the need to defend science. But it is Blair and others in Labour who encouraged and reinforced these ideas in the 1990s and who still have offered little beyond empty promises to actually defend researchers from such extremism.


Tortured: How Labour has twisted and turned over animal testing. Gareth Walsh and David Robertson, Times Online, August 1, 2004.

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