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Animal rights

Pets, politics and Peter Singer

It’s been a big week for animals, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. First we had former marine Paul “Pen” Farthing fleeing Kabul in a chartered plane with the 200 rescue cats and dogs he’d been looking after at his animal charity. Then there was Geronimo, the bovine tuberculosis-ridden alpaca that had to be slaughtered by men from the environment department. “On Tuesday, a member of the public was interviewed on the news above a caption that read “Supporter of Geronimo – as if the alpaca were an incarcerated freedom fighter, a four-legged Mandela.” If you needed proof we’re a nation of bonkers animal-lovers, there it was.

The fuss about Geronimo was just silly tabloid stuff, says Charlotte Ivers in The Sunday Times, but the Farthing matter is shameful. “Think of those photographs of actual humans handing their babies to British soldiers, unsure if they will ever see them again.” As we were being told 1,000 eligible Afghans would not make it to Britain, Farthing and his gang of pets were granted a passage to safety. It’s no surprise, though. A YouGov poll suggests 40% of Brits think an animal life is worth the same as a human’s. “I don’t like it at all. And I really don’t like what it says about our country.”

It says nothing about Britain, says Peter Franklin in UnHerd. Those YouGov stats are nonsense. You can read into polls what you like, but the 40% of Brits questioned probably believe animal lives “matter as well as human lives – but not, in fact, as much”. If almost half the country really felt animals were like people, they’d stop eating them.

What’s odd is how animals became political in the first place, says William Moore in The Spectator. Much can be blamed on the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and his 1975 book Animal Liberation. Singer rejected the idea that human life was intrinsically worth more than that of other species, kick-starting the animal-rights movement. Now Boris Johnson is introducing a bill that will “formally recognise” animals as sentient beings and create an “Animal Sentience Committee”. It’s absurd, of course: the government has recognised that animals suffer since 1822. But the Tories think they need to side with them to survive – Boris’s empty bill is just “political Darwinism”. TS Eliot said in 1948: “Bishops are a part of English culture, and horses and dogs are a part of English religion.” Back then it was a joke. “Is it still?”