For the last few weeks the Campaigns and Policy team at The Vegan Society have been travelling the country hoping to get some vegan friendly policies into the minds of politicians. Party Conference season offers a unique opportunity to interact face to face with decision makers, gauge the general appetite for your cause and hopefully start some useful and meaningful dialogues. It’s also really good fun, if you’re into that sort of thing!
Our main goal was to talk about how growing plant proteins (beans and pulses), should be prioritised in new agricultural policy, and to promote the recommendations in our Grow Green report.
The team kicked off our activities at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, a lovely setting for a few days of vegan lobbying. Our exhibition stand was perfectly located opposite the auditorium entrance and we were (Angela and Maria) Eagle-eyed in spotting, following, and politely haranguing any politician in our midst. It certainly felt that veganism was having a ‘moment’ at the Labour conference. Following recent stories about Jeremy Corbyn’s interest in our lifestyle, many delegates were curious to find out more. We had some fantastic conversations and enthusiastic responses from MPs including Tom Watson, Cat Smith, John McDonnell, Clive Lewis, Dawn Butler, Barry Gardiner among others. Even MPs who were less convinced about veganism (Jess Phillips struggled as she likes meat too much) were curious about our ideas and keen to find out more. It was also great to catch up with long time Vegan Society supporters, Kerry McCarthy and Chris Williamson.
Our stand featured three key questions about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the opportunities that plant protein agriculture offers, asking people to vote by placing beans in a counter. Everyone we met unanimously agreed that we need to do more to address the impact of animal farming and should consider policies to incentivise plant protein farming. I should note that overnight a few rebels voted against our ideas – perhaps some committed meat-eating security guards? In any case, it turned out that the stand was a hit where it mattered. We were astonished to be awarded a prize for Best Delegate Choice Stand by none other than Eddie Izzard!
We held a fringe event to discuss some of our ideas with MPs and delegates. This was extremely well attended – many tempted by the delicious vegan afternoon tea. The discussion was lively, with delegates sharing their own ideas of how to encourage moves towards veganism.
Outside of our own activities there was plenty to keep us occupied – debates on sustainable agriculture (though little acknowledgement of the inherent unsustainability of the livestock sector); animal welfare discussions and even karaoke in aid of the Labour animal welfare group.
Any objective visitor would note the difference in atmosphere at the Conservative Party Conference. There were far fewer delegates and the security presence was overwhelming. We had some good conversations with other NGOs that were present, such as Compassion in World Farming. The NFU had an impressive stand, depicting an idyllic (and wholly unrealistic) picture of UK farming.
We launched our Grow Green report at the conference and had a good turnout at the discussion. It certainly felt like there was broad support for our ideas and acknowledgement that farming needs a rethink which must include looking at our meat and dairy production.
We attended a debate organised by the NFU which featured Michael Gove (Environment Minister) on the panel. We heard from many farmers concerned about their futures after Brexit, particularly around migrant workers. This reinforced the idea that our current food system is broken and needs a radical rethink. Michael Gove seemed open to new ideas and welcomed consultation with various voices, so let’s hope we’ll get a meeting in soon.
I also participated on a farming futures debate organised by Policy Exchange. Even getting a place on a panel at an event like that feels like a great leap forward. Whilst there were admittedly a few smirks in the room at the mention of veganism, the audience were generally respectful of our ideas, with one audience member calling for a carbon tax on food (which would land heavily on meat and dairy). Ultimately it’s the policy makers and politicians that need to be convinced and I was brought down to earth by a conversation with an MP after the event. He approached me determinedly to declare his disagreement with absolutely everything I said, including the idea that climate change exists, and wanted to ensure that The Vegan Society were not recipients of any public money as that would have made him even angrier. He shall remain unnamed, but let’s say we won’t be wasting the cost of a stamp by sending him our Grow Green report!
We also had a worthwhile day at the Green Party Conference, including meeting with Keith Taylor and Molly Scott Cato MEPs. Whilst our ideas may fit more naturally with green policies, there is still work to do to persuade politicians that a vegan future is viable and possible.
All in all it’s been a really positive few weeks, with doors not necessarily wide open but certainly ajar for future dialogue. We have plenty of work to do over the coming months to build on these relationships and garner support for our policy recommendations.
Louise Davies, Head of Campaigns and Policy
Watch how we got on here:
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.