To those people who can never see anything wrong with the causes and organisations they support, no matter what they do, the revelations about the League Against Cruel Sports’ financial mismanagement will simply be dismissed. Such blinkered views are symptomatic of an unwavering belief in the absolute certainty of their cause and usually result in a spokesman justifying and condoning almost any flaw or failure; it’s no different this time.
Those who actively oppose hunting, whether it be through political work, direct confrontation or as a ‘keyboard warrior’, are relatively few in number, but they do have loud voices. It would be a mistake to place these people into neat separate categories, as often loyalty to “the cause” creates a kind of united front. Remember the internet trolls who delighted in the accidental death of Hunt Master Gemma McCormick? Some weren’t your typical black garbed, face-covered animal rightists; they were middle aged, middle class women who held respectable jobs. I suspect the same type of person will be found amongst the individuals who posted vile comments online about the tragic death of nine year-old Bonnie Armitage, also killed in a hunting accident. We’ll find the answer if the current police investigation bears fruit, but isn’t this the natural consequence of filling campaign literature with accusations about all hunters being blood-lusting barbarians out to kill animals for fun?
Repudiation is the antis’ default position; those who criticise in any way must be hunt sympathisers or part of a right-wing media conspiracy. The denial that anything was wrong with the use of LACS’ money to fund overseas trips, substantially increasing salaries and paying legal defence fees after the highly paid chief executive Joe Duckworth got into a pub fight, as The Times recently revealed, was certainly no surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the League has been in trouble.
Of course it may be the case that new employees at the LACS (and there have been quite a few over recent years) simply have no idea of the history of the organisation, an example being the statement made by the then chief executive Douglas Batchelor who said in 2001, “The League has not funded the campaign of any MP, pro or anti-hunting.” It may therefore cause a degree of discomfort for current employees and the wider membership to learn a little more of that history, though I suspect for the blinkered hardliners in the ranks such revelations are more likely to be praised, rather than condemned.
As far back as the 1970s saw financial sophistry within the organisation and its particular way of operating. League payments that helped pay for election addresses were kept hidden from the membership. A donation of £80,000 to the Labour Party in 1979 (a sum of approximately £400,000 in today’s money) caused serious upset amongst the membership and prompted legal action from one Conservative supporter. The court case, which finally concluded some years later, found that the LACS was in breach of its own constitution in that the funds it raised were for animal welfare purposes and were not to be used for any other reason. It was agreed that while £30,000 could be used by the Labour Party to promote its animal welfare policies, the remaining £50,000 had to be returned plus interest, thought to be in excess of £20,000.
The 1983 general election was approaching and executive director at the time, Richard Course, did not want to see the relationship between the LACS and the Labour Party soured. After the court case, Mr Course wrote to senior Labour figures promising the money would be returned.
Instead of a large single donation that would stick out a mile in the published accounts, numerous smaller payments were made to local Labour groups. While a few favoured Liberals received cash, the overwhelming majority of payments were made to the constituency Labour parties (CLPs). Contributions by the League were made towards the election address leaflets for Labour candidates in over 100 key marginal constituencies. In addition six million leaflets promoting Labour, but unrelated to animal issues, were supplied by the League. This would all be hidden from the membership under vague headings of ‘publicity’ or’ political activity’ in the annual accounts. The process was repeated for the 1987 general election. Some of the most vehement anti-hunting MPs who later championed the Hunting Bill, including Alun Michael the minister responsible for the anti-hunting legislation, had their campaigns boosted by this financial support.
On a different point, becoming involved with those who hold extreme animal rights views and employing individuals with criminal records or including them at committee level (as the LACS has done on numerous occasions) was bound to create problems in any campaign, but especially one dealing with such an emotive issue as hunting. One instance resulted in the LACS offices being raided by the police following a particularly nasty animal liberation raid on a testing establishment. The League’s darkroom facilities had been used by a staff member and other activists to develop films of the event and during the police search an illegal firearm was found on the premises and an arrest was made.
Internal strife is nothing new in the LACS, almost becoming a cyclical event. After a few years of functioning like some kind of co-operative during the late 1990s (a newly appointed chief executive had resigned after only days in the job saying that the organisation was ungovernable) the next chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, started to create a stricter regime. In doing so, office harmony was not at its highest level and in 2000 Mr Batchelor employed an American student who did not have a permit to work in the UK. She was ‘paid’ in jewellery bequeathed to the League for the purpose of buying a new sanctuary. Not only did this action ignore the donor’s final wishes, it resulted in a false audit, left the League open to prosecution and exacerbated staff unrest and prompted departures.
Becoming a charity didn’t seem to alter the LACS’ way of working, despite the requirement that all charities must have as part of their remit some form of public benefit and the League meeting that condition is doubtful to say the least. Old Left-leaning habits die hard and in early 2010, with the next general election just months away, a LACS advertisement accusing the Conservative Party of being“Cruel Tories” was banned by the Charity Commission as it broke rules on political impartiality.
Even after this censure it seems no lessons had been learned. A few months later, with the general election just days away, a LACS public opinion poll and press release again broke Charity Commission rules on political impartiality by using wording referring to the Conservative Party that, “appeared to be designed to elicit a particular response for the purpose of criticising the party.”
It seems obvious that those Conservative MPs who have publicly aligned themselves with the League and its campaigns, perhaps for innocent reasons, know little of the history of the organisation. They should, at the very least, be made aware of the type of organisation with which they align themselves.
The first AGM of what was then the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports. There are numerous other problems in the League being a charity, such as its failure to supply a“legitimate evidence base”for some of its claims and policies, which point to the LACS again being in breach of Charity Commission guidelines. The inclusion of dog fighting and badger baiting in public opinion poll questions (giving the impression that repeal of the Hunting Act might also legalise such so-called ‘sports’) was a clear example of this organisation acting outside its charitable status.
The recently reported LACS troubles and those referred to in another blog (seehttps://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/boxing-day-blues/) follow on from accusations that were made by other disgruntled ex-employees that were equally shocking if true; mismanagement of sanctuaries, funds used for non-charitable purposes, high salaries and massive staff expenses.
It’s probably true to say that those who formed the League Against Cruel Sports back in the 1920s had the best interests of wild animals at heart. Some may have been misguided and they were certainly wrong in their overall attack on hunting with hounds, but they did highlight some activities that today we rightly condemn. In that sense, it could be argued they achieved some genuine animal welfare success.
But then their attitude and style of operation is a world away from the politically motivated, sometime illegal, often hate-filled anti-hunting campaigns that we see today.
April 11, 2016 by jamesbarrington