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We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…how about you, you, you?

A woman of principle, or a bit of a crank?

The question relates to Angela Smith, Minister for the Third Sector, who has made it clear that she’s not prepared to attend an event at London Zoo because she’s a strong supporter of animal rights and a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society.

That means she won’t be at next Monday’s annual meeting on the Compact, which is an important occasion in the continuing development of the agreement that regulates sector-government relations. The venue was fixed last September, but officials weren’t then aware of the minister’s scruples.

In one sense it’s all very convenient for her – she won’t have to face the music for her flagrant and admitted breach of the Compact last November, when she scrapped† the ¬£750,000 Campaigning Research Programme and withdraw grants to 32 small organisations at short notice.

Her colleague Dawn Butler, minister for young citizens and youth engagement, will go to the meeting instead and deal with the inevitable criticism of the decision, which has still not been convincingly explained.

But Smith’s track record suggests that she’s not just using animal rights as an excuse. She worked for the League Against Cruel Sports for 12 years before she became an MP, and there’s nothing in her political record to suggest she’s unable to tough out an unpopular decision.

Her position on the zoo will seem eccentric and self-indulgent to some. One can just imagine her officials, who have of course loyally taken the rap in public for the mix-up, raising their eyes silently to heaven as they close her office door behind them.

But I suspect she will gain a lot of respect in the sector over this episode. It makes a refreshing contrast to the trimming, expediency and cynicism we’ve become used to in our politicians. And zoos are strange and sad places, whatever you say about their role in education and conservation.

And what if she had gone? The way would have been open for the animal rights lobby to point out her patronage of the society, and then she would have stood accused of hypocrisy – which is arguably the worst sin of the lot.

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  • carl allen

    Integral to a compact way of working is reconciliation of two opposing positions or seeing a hidden opportunity when facing such a moment of contradiction.

    Indeed, as a wild thing, so to speak, the minister could have spared a moment to roar in the den of the enemy!.

  • Chris Gale

    The Minister is to be applauded for this which shows that she put the principles of compassion and decency before giving credence to the brutal and inhumane prison camp for sentient creatures that is London Zoo.

  • charlie marshall

    Advocate means represent. The ministerial JD does not I believe have an opt out excusing the postholder from representing those members of the ministerial constituency he/she he does not approve of

  • David Hancocks

    Zoos are indeed strange and sad places. As a former zoo director, and one who has studied and written about them for many years, I assure you they have only an occasional, marginal and mostly technical role in conservation, and their exaggerated claims about public education have no basis in reality.

  • Alan Greening

    This is typical of what is wrong with policy makers. It was an insult to call the collection of captive animals at Basildon a zoo, but what about the work done at Howletts Wild Animal Park? Or at Woburn Safari Park? There are only a few hundred Rothschild Giraffes in the wild, what do you do with the many that roam free in Bedfordshire? Ship them back to Africa so they can be killed too?

  • Ivor Sutton

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Javed.

    Unlike in the 80’s and 90’s, when business owners use to be available for ambitious individuals like me, who would put on their suits, shiny shoes and go armed with a CV to knock on the doors of local businesses seeking employment opportunities, now it has all changed – and not for the better! The third sector has lost its way in this area. But why, given the strong ethical and Community-related stance it has?

    Now dominated by HR, third sector director’s need to engage more with front-line staff or ‘TEAM’ members, as well as encourage their own engagement with skilled job seekers who are ambitious enough to ‘reach out’ to them for opportunities. But, then again, with this dominance by HR, one might ask why is it therefore necessary for the CEO or director of a third sector organisation to show their faces.

    Do I feel that third sector CEO’s and director’s have lost the plot in this respect? Of course I do. It should be clear to the third sector that private sectors skills in their organisation is critical to the long-term goals they seek for their organisation, both in policy terms and financial security. Thus, business owners to get back to what they are meant to best at… Running the Business and Inspiring Change on the ground by sustaining a fundamental engagement with staff, and with those ambitious enough to want to sit down with them, and promote the values they can bring to their organisation.