I’ve been an animal lover all my life, but my passion for animal welfare probably began at the age of seven, when my mum said our cats had been put down, because we couldn’t afford to keep them.
All the events that led up to that – my dad walking out, our family being evicted by the bailiffs, and the huge hardship we suddenly faced – became crystallised in my mind in the unfairness and cruelty faced by my beloved cats.
I was too young to know about pet rescue charities or the other potential alternatives, otherwise I’d have protested and cried even more loudly, but frankly, my mum was in such a state back then, she wouldn’t have listened.
But ever since then, I’ve had a fierce affiliation with any organisation working to protect animals from abuse and cruelty, from badgers and racehorses to animal testing labs and slaughterhouses.
That’s why I was so immensely proud of the animal welfare manifesto Sue Hayman delivered for this election, and so immensely sorry she lost her seat. But I remain fully committed to every pledge in that manifesto, and I hope Sue will be back to deliver it next time round.
However, I imagine every candidate will say the same, so I just want to explain what I could add to this debate that others can’t: my experience as Shadow Foreign Secretary in exposing the Tories’ international failures when it comes to animal welfare.
Because, after all, an ill-conceived cull of badgers doesn’t matter more than the horrific poaching of elephants just because one takes place here, and the other in Africa. So one of the things I’ve done in this job, especially for the two years I was up against Boris Johnson, was brutally expose the gap between Tory rhetoric on protecting animal welfare and the reality.
Just look at the table below when it comes to the rapidly-declining ability to stop illegal imports of ivory, as the Border Force’s attention has been diverted to Brexit preparations. I used these figures repeatedly to expose Boris Johnson as a charlatan, failing to deliver on his promises:
I did the same on the protection of animal life in our oceans and animals living on the ice caps, where again there has been a stunning gap between Tory speechifying on the issues, and any sign of genuine action, right down to the pathetic indulgence of Donald Trump’s active attempts to reverse progress on clean oceans and marine protected areas.
And of course, as we’ve seen the devastating impact of the Australian wildfires in Australia on forest wildlife, with many species potentially made extinct as a result, I’ve called out PM Scott Morrison, another Trump wannabe, on his utter fecklessness on climate change.
On these and many other issues, I have used my time as Shadow Foreign Secretary to raise the profile of animal welfare worldwide, as well as in Britain, and if you nominate me for the leadership, I will ensure that will become part of our wider debate over the coming weeks.