We were amused to listen to Liam Stokes (Countryside Alliance) trying to tell the Parliamentary Petitions Committee (whose job it is, to er, assess petitions) that there is a need to be “very careful” when judging public perception on the basis of a petition (see oral evidence session here).
He, and others from the grouse-shooting industry, have gone to great lengths to try and discredit the successful petition to ban driven grouse shooting, signed by 123, 076 members of the public. For example, Mr Stokes said in a Countryside Alliance press statement issued at the end of last week’s evidence session:
“The manufactured support that led to the petition to ban driven grouse shooting being signed by 100,000 people is not reflective of the true priorities of the British public. It was achieved through the support of animal rights organisations and with the help of Mark Avery’s friend Chris Packham, who used the platform provided to him by the BBC to actively promote the petition.”
His boss, Tim Bonner, said in another Countryside Alliance press statement:
“How many of the signatories know what a grouse is has not been revealed, but as the rule stands 100,000 electronic clicks trigger such a process even if, as in this case, it has taken three years and three petitions to reach that figure“.
Funny, Mr Bonner didn’t question how many of the 5, 015 signatories on the grouse shooting industry’s counter petition (to protect grouse shooting) knew that stone curlews don’t live on grouse moors! (The wording of this petition was subsequently revised to remove the false information – oh to have friends in Westminster who can facilitate such amendments to an already up-and-running petition, eh?).
Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group said in his written evidence:
“The previous petitions by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting attracted many less signatures and this one has only exceeded 100,000 because of aggressive marketing to the public in the last two months, for instance distribution of leaflets to households in Edinburgh and to festival goers in the street. This shows that it is the support of the wider animal right [sic] movement rather than people with experience of moorland management which has generated the necessary number of signatures for a debate, and the Petition needs to be seen in that light. This needs to be closely questioned“.
Crikey! Festival-goers asked to sign a petition? The shame of it. Everybody knows that attending a festival precludes your right to an opinion on anything. And as for that aggressive pushing of leaflets through letterboxes, it just shouldn’t be allowed. Come on, MPs, you need to “closely question” this behaviour.
How these people can possibly know what motivated every one of those 123,076 signatories is beyond us. Yes, of course some will have been motivated by concerns over animal rights, just as others will have been motivated by concerns over illegal raptor persecution, the burning of moorlands, the exacerbation of downstream flooding, the use of tax-payers’ money to support a rich man’s hobby etc etc. The reason the petition was so successful was precisely because of the wide variety of concerns arising from driven grouse shooting! We’re all perfectly entitled to our individual views because we live in a democracy where people are allowed to voice their opinion. Trying to paint a picture that we’re all ‘extremists’ is just another PR ploy to discredit a successful campaign. And it’s kind of ironic that we’re labelled extremists when Mr Stokes served as Secretary of the Traditional Britain Group – a right-wing outfit with homophobic, racist views that, when told that Doreen Lawrence (mother of murdered Stephen) was to receive a peerage, called for her to return to her ‘natural homeland’. Hmm, not extremist at all.
It seems though that all this whining about petitions being ‘unrepresentative’ of public opinion is simply a case of petition envy. The grouse-shooting industry knows all too well the impact of over 100,000 people signing a public petition to ban driven grouse shooting, when their own counter petition to protect grouse shooting has reached a mere 23,000. Indeed, this very point was raised by the Petitions Committee Chair at the beginning of Mr Stokes’s oral evidence. Mr Stokes tried (failed) to justify the difference in numbers by claiming the counter petition had been started by a gamekeeping student “with no support”. A bit like Mark Avery’s petition then, also started by an individual ‘with no support’ (from the mainstream environmental organisations).
Mr Stokes also suggested the numbers were still low on the counter petition because it hadn’t been running for as long (just two months), and compared it with Mark’s first petition that had reached a similar number of signatures over a period of one year. What he didn’t say was that this counter petition has received much more publicity than Mark’s first petition because the issue of driven grouse shooting is far more prominent now than it was when Mark first started his campaign two years ago.
He also forgot to mention the widespread support of the game-shooting industry that has been vigorously promoting this counter petition for at least a month. Here are some examples:
The Countryside Alliance on twitter:
An e-newsletter from Guns on Pegs (a company selling shooting days):
An e-newsletter from William Powell (a shooting company owned by Mark Osborne):
And this little gem from the Fieldsports magazine e-newsletter:
You’ll notice in this Fieldsports ‘Call to arms’ that they are pleading with pheasant shooters, partridge shooters, deer stalkers and anglers to sign this petition. Hmm, do you think that’s what Mr Stokes meant when he mentioned “manufactured support”?
And yet, even with all this industry promotion, the counter petition still stands at a pathetic 23, 445. Not exactly an indication of widespread public support, eh?