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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