Monday, April 05, 2010

The Daily Mail, the Guardian and the pet shop boy

I have complained before that attacking or laughing at the Daily Mail too often takes the place of hard thinking among the liberal left.

And it easy to have a go at the Mail. Take their recent front page about the woman who was fined and told to wear an electronic tag for selling a goldfish to a boy of 14. Turn to the Guardian, as all we lefties do, and you find that there was more to the case than that:
An animal welfare officer also found a cockatiel in the shop that was in such distress it had to be put down.
So we can complain about the Mail and get on with our lives? I don't think so. There is more to say about this case than that.

First, what do we think of the practice of using youngsters in this way? Isn't there something a little Pavlik Morozov, a little "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" about it?

Second, it is not just the Daily Mail you can take issue with. The Guardian tells us that the boy was sent to make a test purchase by council staff
investigating a complaint that the shop had previously sold a gerbil to a girl with learning difficulties who put it in a cup of coffee. The rodent subsequently died.
If this were the Daily Mail, we would all note that no independent source is given for the existence of this "girl with learning difficulties" or the drowned gerbil. I suggest we expect the same standards from the Guardian.

I suspect that in the Guardian hierarchy of desert, just as the working class are the good guys until they come up against immigrant workers (see my discussion of Lucy Mangan), so the paper is all in favour of people with learning disabilities until they come up against animals. They go from being people with rights to being a stage army who threaten blameless rodents.

If you want to know who outranks whom in this Guardian hierarchy, the rule seems to be that the less likely you are to be vocal on your own behalf, the higher you rank. The working class is OK, but it is likely to have affection for the royal family and unenlightened comedians. So immigrant workers make better victims.

Equally, people with learning disabilities are great, but they are starting to get bolshy and demand a say in the services they receive. Gerbils are much better. Whatever you do or say on their behalf, you can be sure they will never tell you to fuck off and stop patronising you.

And goldfish are even less vocal than gerbils.

The third reason that simply attacking the Daily Mail will not do here is that this case ought to pose a dilemma for Liberal Democrats. When I was on the party's Federal Policy Committee some years ago, we considered a report from a working party on animal welfare. Its recommendations, which appeared to have come straight from the RSPCA, suggested various ways in which our liberties should be curbed for the sake of animals' rights. Banning children and teenagers from buying pets was among them.

Some of us on FPC staged a libertarian rebellion and voted not to accept some of the more intrusive recommendations. Yet these all appeared as amendments at conference and duly voted through with encouragement from the chair of the debate.

I think that we Liberals should worry about these matters more than we do.

Certainly, these days the loyal Guardian reader is obliged to believe that a boy of 14 is perfectly capable of interviewing someone applying to teach at his school but cannot be trusted to look after a goldfish. I do not find this a compelling view.


crewegwyn said...

Pet shop proprieters have obligations in respect of live animals in their care (as indeed do we all). The law should cover that obligation.

Whether the failures in this case (which clearly caused injury and distress to at least two animals) justified the penalties imposed is a different issue, but that's magistrates for you!!

Musings of a Raging Liberal said...

"Attacking or laughing at the Daily Mail too often takes the place of hard thinking among the liberal left"

Very true. 'Tis fun, though ;)