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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 December 2006, 19:54 GMT
Activists welcome animal rights party
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

A new political party campaigning for animal rights across the UK has been launched at a London event.

But where did they come from and do they expect to get much support?

Jasmijn de Boo
Jasmijn de Boo hopes to put animal rights on the political map

Animals Count. This is both the name of the newest addition to the UK's political landscape and the basic principle underpinning the group.

The party was officially launched at an annual Christmas fayre organised by Animal Aid - an event which brought together various groups dedicated to protecting animal rights.

Ahead of the conference unveiling the new party, hundreds of people filled Kensington Town Hall, in west London.

The air was thick with the heavy scent of such dishes as marinated Tempe in curry sauce and hummus made with vegetarian con Algas, while veggie burgers and vegetarian wraps were ubiquitous.

And, while fair-goers were greeted with a panoply of brightly-coloured stalls bearing photographs of caged animals, foxes being hunted and literary tomes denouncing vivisection, the sound of people passionately discussing these issues provided a constant backdrop.

"Vivisectionists are the antithesis of the moral vegan. They're sadists, not scientists," proclaimed one stall-holder, clad in a 'Vegan Power' T-shirt, to an audience who nodded sagely in agreement.

His audience, and many other like-minded people committed to equal rights for all sentient beings, duly filed into a conference hall to watch Animals Count leader Jasmijn de Boo explain her party's stance.

People said it couldn't be done for women and it couldn't be done for slaves. Just support us
Alex Bourke
Animals Count

"The time is right for a party dedicated to animals. Animals count - they count on you," she told around 200 delegates.

After likening the fight for animals to the struggle to free slaves and the campaign for universal suffrage, she said support "will come from across the political spectrum".

Ms de Boo, who was flanked by two other party members, admitted that the proportional representation election system used in the Netherlands had paved the way for the success of Party for Animals, to whom Animals Count is linked.

However she said the use of this system to elect the Welsh Assembly had influenced the decision to contest elections there in 2007, before taking the party to Scotland and England.

Animals Count has pledged to avoid the violent tactics often associated with the animal rights movement.

Steve Baker
Steve Baker said he felt many would not connect with the party

Echoing Ms de Boo's rhetoric Alex Bourke, an international vegetarian activist, said those who believed in what the party stood for should take action, rather than adopting the view that a vote for Animals Count was wanted.

"People said it couldn't be done for women and it couldn't be done for slaves. Just support us," he told delegates.

The brief pauses that punctuated both Ms de Boo's speech, and that given by Mr Bourke and a member of the Dutch sister party that recently enjoyed electoral success, were punctuated by warm applause - suggesting that their audience was like-minded.

Green Party clash

However, there were signs of dissent during a question and answer session during which the audience quizzed the panel on their policies for humans and whether they would contest seats in the same area as the Green Party.

Where the latter was concerned, Ms de Boo twice failed to rule out, in principle, contesting seats head-to-head with the Greens.

And, where non-animal related issues were concerned, she admitted: "We don't have a full manifesto yet", but stressed that policies on health and education were being planned.

The response to the launch was mainly enthusiastic.

Steve Baker, a care worker, said the new party had his support, although he admitted that "he wasn't too sure how successful they will be".

Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah said there was a need for an animal rights party

"Most people will be concerned about other issues, such as money and education," said the 21-year-old from Brighton.

Meanwhile, 82-year-old Michael Sutcliffe, who is retired, said the creation of the new party marked "a very brave effort which is badly needed".

"Human rights are quoted all the time, but the establishment has given a bad name to animal rights," said the "long-lapsed" Tory voter who added that he would vote for the new party.

But It was left to a poet warn of the harsh realities of the UK's modern political landscape.

Benjamin Zephaniah, who attended the Animal Aid fair, but had not been to the party launch, said: "Today's political culture depends on how much money a party has and advertising."

The 48-year-old poet, a strict vegan, said it was "sad but necessary" that a party specifically concerned with animal rights should exist.

And he suggested that the party's biggest effect may be to influence policy-making in mainstream parties.

"One criticism I would have in general with the animal rights movement is that there is a concentration on these rights and not human rights," he said.

"To have a broad appeal they have got to appeal to human rights as well. I hope they will do that."

New animal rights party launched
03 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Vote fragments Dutch politics
23 Nov 06 |  Europe

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