Hooliganism and Euro 2016 – A review of Russia vs Slovakia

As this year’s Euro 2016 football championships draw to a close, I thought now would be a good time to offer some reflections on a theme that has apparently put a stain on events in France – hooliganism. The predominant offenders were seemingly English, Russian and French fans, and the ‘Three Lions’ for their part were threatened with all out exclusion. Such action proved unnecessary of course as England were dumped out in the last 16 by Iceland, lest we forget.


As this year’s Euro 2016 football championships draw to a close, I thought now would be a good time to offer some reflections on a theme that has apparently put a stain on events in France – hooliganism. The predominant offenders were seemingly English, Russian and French fan cohorts, and the ‘Three Lions’ for their part were threatened with all out exclusion. Such action proved unnecessary of course as England were dumped out in the last 16 by losing to Iceland, lest we forget.

I was keen to gain a first-hand account of the goings on in France on 15th June, when I travelled to the Franco Flemish city of Lille to watch Russia – (home of 150 highly trained aggressors out to cause as much carnage as possible), verses Slovakia. As well as these two sets of fans, I was also told to expect a strong English contingent, whose team were playing Wales in nearby Lens the following day. It seemed like a recipe for a cake made out of violence, strife and thuggery.

I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed early on Wednesday morning, and set off for Kings Cross, where my Eurostar carriage awaited me. I met up with my travelling companion and we completed the formalities of check in. Things once on-board were very civilised. Yes, there were a good number of English football fans, but the chatter was excitable and fun – more tactics and diamond formations rather than Sambuca chasers and fantasies of Russian pounding. We were briefly blessed with the presence of a British police officer – but the conversation remained smiley and convivial and she was soon on her way. It was good to know there was a security presence on board should things take a turn for ‘le macabre.’

In a relative blink of an eye (1hr 20 mins) we were in Lille, and upon disembarking we were greeted by what felt like our own guard of honour, complete with assault rifles the size of small children and all the associated garb. Yet despite this somewhat unorthodox welcome, Lille on first impressions certainly did not feel like a city on lockdown. Quite the opposite in fact.

We made our way to ‘Place du Général-de-Gaulle’, an excellent spot to enjoy the eclectic yet coherent architecture and an excellent chocolatey beverage and an equally excellent cheese burger. Yes, there were numerous clutches of gendarmes, and yes there was out of tune singing (mostly alas from the English) but little more than that. Indeed the Lillois appeared to be taking the whole thing in their stride, going about their daily lives as normal, and (in contrast to previous experiences it has to be said) going out of their way to be friendly to ‘le English.’

Full on chocolate and ‘du boeuf’ we made our way to the stadium Pierre du Mauroy –which was a little way out from the city centre (as is the norm with many modern stadia these days). The journey via driverless metro was a masterclass of efficiency (not something you’d normally associate with ‘le French’), whilst fans from various European nations were mingling with one another like one happy supra federalist family. Had Jean Claude Juncker been there he would have probably cried.

The game itself was a 2-1 win to Slovakia, and alas no grisly hostility greeted us here either. The Russians did let off a solitary non exploding red flare mind you. The unrelenting efficiency continued as we made our way back to the city centre – and when settled in a charming street corner bar reports soon emerged of a ‘scuffle’ involving English fans and tear gas. Our curiosity piqued, we arrived at the scene of the crime mere minutes later to be greeted by the aftermath – lots of empty plastic beer containers in a pile. As seemed the custom, everyone seemed very relaxed about the whole thing – including the many nearby gendarmes on their mobile phones playing ‘le candy crush’ – probably. The Lille public too, rather than boarding up their maison’s and cowering under tables seemed quite entertained, if a little bemused by the whole thing.

As night fell more news of scuffling emerged. By this point I was tucked up in bed and well gone. Yet having reviewed the video footage the next morning it seemed little more serious than what had gone on earlier in the day.

With that in mind, I reflected that perhaps the media had blown the whole hooliganism thing out of all proportion. It’s easy to look at the reports on TV and social media and think anarchy and wanton violence rules the day at Euro 2016. Conversely, my experience of Lille shows that nothing could be further from the truth.


Why I’ll be voting to stay in the EU

It’s hard to believe, but the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is little more than a day away. Which way will it go? With the polls neck and neck, it really is anyone’s guess.


Countless claims and counter claims have been made about innumerable topics, but to my mind two issues have stood out – the economy and immigration. Both these are well worth considering for sure, yet for the Christian there is something even more important to think about, the implications for the spread of the Gospel – the Great Commission to evangelise and make disciples of Christ. This could certainly involve the sending of missionaries and the planting of churches, but it could also entail individual Christians moving abroad to undertake ‘normal 9 to 5 jobs’, wishing to do their bit in building brothers and sisters up in Christlikeness.

Before I go any further, I don’t want to claim that whether to ‘bremain’ or ‘brexit’ is an issue of primacy where disagreement should lead to division. Many faithful Christian brothers and sisters are sure to disagree on this question, and that’s ok.

With that in mind, allow me to make my case as to why I will be voting to remain in the EU.

At present – I could move to European nations such as Spain, France, or Germany to work and it would be done. No visas, no restrictive domestic immigration rules, no fuss.

Now, if we do vote to leave, we could remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) or the single market and do a Norway or Switzerland respectively. This would mean that despite being outside the EU, we could still work and live throughout the EEA and single market which includes countries in the EU plus a few others, and with the same ease as is currently the case.

It’s worth noting however that the Vote Leave front men – Messrs Gove and Johnson believe we’d be better off out the EEA and single market altogether. The argument goes that once outside Britain will be able to negotiate it’s own deals with individual European nations regarding the free movement of labour. In other words, Britons could move and work throughout much of Europe as before even if outside the EEA and single market..

However, and bearing in mind that Vote Leave want to tighten the rules restricting the flow of migrants into the United Kingdom, how likely is it that the powers that be in Brussels will allow the British to move to other countries freely to work, yet will also allow Britain to impose tougher rules on who can come through it’s borders? Some may wish to take this chance, but personally I don’t view it likely that a complete withdrawal from the EEA and single market would mean things would go on as before. In fact, I think things would be tougher for British believers wanting to move abroad.

Why? Well consider the argument that because we are a major trading partner of the EU, we would be able to use this leverage to negotiate preferential labour movement terms vis a vis the above (we can move freely, and restrict the numbers coming in). However, this ignores the fact that the EU is an even more important trading partner for us. In other words, in terms of trade, we rely on them more than they rely on us.

Only God knows how things will go both on Thursday and in terms of free movement negotiations should Vote Leave prevail. However, given the above, I think the risk is too great. For the reasons given above, I think there is a more than reasonable chance that Brexit would make the spread of the Gospel throughout the Europe harder than it is now.

As a result, I will be voting to remain in the European Union on Thursday.

A review of Louis Theroux’s ‘Drinking to Oblivion’

Last week, the ever popular Louis Theroux returned to our TV screens for a one off documentary exploring the issue of alcoholism. In common with much of his work, Theroux, rather than drawing on statistics and expert evidence chose to explore this topic by talking to those affected themselves – the people experiencing alcoholism and various associated others (spouses, partners, boyfriends etc.) In watching this latest offering, I was left with a whole range of different impressions and emotions in comparison to his earlier work.

Louis Theroux - Drinking to oblivion review pic

Charting Louis Theroux’s career to date is an intriguing exercise. In his earlier output, Theroux came across as somewhat smug and sneering as he engaged with various perceived fringe groups in western society, whether they be ‘survivalists’ or those who believe in the existence of UFOs. This trend for engaging with alternative sects continued throughout Theroux’s career into the early and mid-2000s, minus the smugness and sneering I’m glad to say.

Whether it was leftfield groups or charismatic celebrities, the Oxford graduate soon built something of an imitable trademark style – altogether emotionally neutral, deadpan yet also charming and relatable. This odd mix of qualities perhaps helps explain why he has been able not only to gain access to notorious groups and people but also able to build relationships with them, bringing out their human side alongside their oddities.  All of this has made for rather compelling viewing over the years. Did ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ continue this trend?

Perhaps the first thing to say about this latest documentary is that its subjects are fundamentally different from any of Theroux’s others. As already noted, Theroux has built his career on being able to engage with society’s fringe, and whilst alcoholics are in many ways similarly seen as fringe, they are in many ways seen as far more relatable, visible and knowable (if not literally, then certainly culturally) than any other group Theroux has explored. We are far more likely to know an alcoholic for example, whereas how many of us can say that we know a survivalist or a member of Westboro’ Baptist Church?! We are also far more likely to ‘know’ about alcoholism in as far as we know (even if on a basic and/or flawed level) what it is. In comparison, I might have heard of the survivalists or Westboro’ Baptist Church but not much more than that – who they are, what they believe or how they behave for example.

Further, the way Theroux relates to those he meets in ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ is patently different to how he has done so in the past. Here, he seems to wear his emotions much more openly, he is visibly saddened and stirred by the way in which alcohol has gripped and destroyed the lives of a number (if not all, thankfully) of those he meets. Accordingly, he comes across as much more attached than in the past, it is clear that he dearly wants to help those he meet escape alcohol’s clutches. This is no more apparent than when Joe, in the depths of an alcohol induced crisis decides (whilst at hospital) that he wants to go out and buy a bottle of vodka, to which Louis responds by imploring him not to. It isn’t merely the words he says to Joe, but the way in which he almost begs Joe not to that sticks in the memory.

All of which leads the viewer to respond to ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ in a wholly different way than to previous Theroux offerings. In the past, we might have been entertained by Theroux’s dalliances with people to whom many feel deserve our mockery, derision and laughter. This certainly isn’t the case here. Rather, Drinking to Oblivion is an often uncomfortable, hard-hitting and altogether sad watch. Indeed, we aren’t encouraged to be entertained, intrigued, and to mock, deride and laugh but to lament, be saddened, discomforted and moved by how this terrifying affliction can affect significant numbers of people. Thus, given the subject matter, Theroux’s change in tone is welcome (I say this as someone who has enjoyed much of Theroux’s earlier work).

In summary, drinking to Oblivion is indeed hard, discomforting and saddening, and it is all the better for it.

My take on the 2016 Budget

George Osborne was described on Wednesday as the man who wants to have it all. He’s a man for all seasons, someone who on the one hand can introduce policies with widescale appeal, yet on the other be on the side of big business.

I believe however that this week’s budget represented something of a departure from this bent. That is, many of the Chancellor’s fiscal measures can be interpreted as a helping hand to the richest in UK society, to the detriment of the poorest.

Here are my four takeaways

  1. As hinted at above, Osbo’s measures, particularly around personal income tax will actually benefit the richer much more than the poorer. Two such policies that will ensure this will are a.) the increase in the personal income tax threshold to £11,500 and b.) the increase in the point at which the 40 per cent threshold will kick in. Provided your eyes haven’t glazed over at this point, I’d urge you to take a look at the nifty graph below from the respected Resolution Foundation. It shows that the greatest benefit of the aforementioned income tax cuts will go to the richest 10% of the population. ‘How can this be?’ I hear you ask. Well, in regard to increasing the personal income tax threshold to £11,500, whilst its true that you can now earn this sum without paying any income tax whatsoever, the poorest probably aren’t paying any already, so any further increase in the threshold won’t help them, at all. Sorry about that. Secondly, our tax system is based on what you earn as an individual, taking no account of those in your family who might not earn anything. Indeed, measures like this will give more benefit to households where both members of a couple are earning over the threshold than only one. And unsurprisingly, poverty tends to be more likely in single earner households. Despite the facts, policies like this are popular with the electorate, hence why Gideon, ever the politically astute cat, persists with such ruses.
  2.  The Chancellor also announced measures to introduce something called a ‘lifetime ISA’ If you’re under 40, you’ll be able to save up to £4,000 per year, and if you do, the Government will very kindly top that up by 25%, thus boosting your nice little nest egg by £1,000 per annum. Savings are good, if you can earn enough to save. The problem is, many can’t. And don’t think this only applies to unemployed layabouts. Many who are in paid employment cannot save anything either. Bad news if you want a pension, or a property deposit, or a rainy fay fund should things get rainy, or a packet of crisps. Its also worth mentioning that this won’t even begin to deal with the biggest problem facing the housing market, supply. If this sticky wicket was remedied, perhaps mega ISAs like this wouldn’t be needed in the first place. Ha, that’s funny.
  3. George Osborne bravely (like King Arthur) has promised a surplus of £10 billion by 2019-20. This Excalibur like pledge coming despite Government numbers predicting a deficit of £21.4 billion just the year before. Such a promise seems implausible at best. This serves as a timely reminder then that economic forecasts can and often do change from one budget to the next, thus, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to them. Lest we forget the promise by Ossie G that the dastardly deficit would be eliminated by 2015. Sadly, even if Osborne does break his fiscal rules, its unlikely the public on the whole will mind too much. Make of that what you will.
  4. George ‘four seasons’ Osborne has carved his reputation on the notion that those with the broadest shoulders (or some other like-minded metaphor) should bear the biggest burden in terms of getting our blasted deficit down. Which makes one his measures announced on Wednesday rather curious – cutting £4.4 billion of disability benefit – directly affecting a group which many will surely agree are a pretty vulnerable segment of our population. To put it another way, 200,000 people with access to the PIP (Personal Independent Payment) will lose almost £3,000 per year. Not one of George’s more politically cat like moves, a view shared by many of his own MP’s. This one hasn’t finished yet though I fancy. On Thursday’s edition of Question Time, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said ‘discussions were still ongoing on the issue’ or something.

*UPDATE 18/03/2016 – As I said, this one hasn’t finished yet. DWP Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith has tonight resigned, seemingly over the disability cuts announced by the Chancellor. You can read his resignation letter here:

Who is Jesus anyway?

Christmas, great! Looking forward to chilling out, spending time away from work, with the family.

Christmas, great. Another Christmas having to endure Grandma’s farts, trying (but inevitably failing) to avoid arguing with Christina and putting up with Dad’s rants about Politics.

Christmas, great! Looking forward to eating, drinking and getting Merrah!!

Christmas, great. Another Christmas on my own, thinking about everyone and everything I’ve lost.

What does Christmas mean to you? Maybe you can relate to one or more of these scenarios.

Yet, when all is said and done, Christmas is about one person.


And when we think of Jesus, maybe an image like this comes into our heads:

baby in manger

Yeah? So? Why does matter? Jesus is born, grows up, says some wise things, dies a tragic death, the end. Can we get to the presents and eating please? Casino Royale is on isn’t it?

As good as it is to lie back, relax and enjoy some good food, presents and TV in the presence of family and friends, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little bit of time thinking about the person it all goes back to?

As such, to get an idea of who Jesus truly was it makes sense to go back to the source text, the Bible. To begin with, the Bible says that Jesus was fully God (John 1:1-14). Ever wondered what God is like? Well, you could do a lot worse than to look upon the man Jesus as revealed in the pages of the Bible. Have a think about that when you’re tucking into your sixth helping of whatever it is people eat at Christmas these days.

Still, you might be thinking – ‘why does this matter?’ Or ‘how will this effect little Jonty as he opens his king size remote control fire engine complete with singing and dancing Fireman Rupert on Christmas Day morning?’ And you’d have a good question. Why does it matter that God came as a human being to earth? It all seems a bit abstract and dusty and quite frankly, all rather meaningless.

Except that it really isn’t. Eyewitnesses at the time tell us that (amongst other things) Jesus came to save us from our sin (1 Timothy 1:15), which is a short way of saying that we’ve all turned away from God (Romans 3:12), lived our lives with no regard to him, and are therefore deserving of judgement, or death (Romans 6:23).

Enter Jesus.

Without Jesus death and resurrection (God put Jesus forward to die on our behalf so that by faith we might not have to endure the punishment we deserve, see Romans 3:25) we’d be up a certain creek without a paddle, facing total separation from God and an eternity in Hell. If your answer to that is ‘my friends will be in Hell’ or ‘oh, at least it’ll be warm in Hell’ then might I humbly suggest that you haven’t really understood how bad Hell, or sin, really is.

Some people don’t like mention of all this Hell stuff, and in one sense, neither do I. Yet, without it the Bible says we don’t really get a sense of God’s love. That is, in order to understand God’s love for us, we surely have to understand what we’ve been saved from (Romans 5:8).

And yet there’s more. This fully God fully man Jesus also desires to know us. This again is only possible through Jesus death and resurrection, and knowing God in this way changes everything. From our human relationships, to what we live for in life, everything. To know God then is to live in a way God naturally intended, it’s what we were created to do (Genesis 3).

One last thing. Jesus, the supposedly sweet docile baby, grew up not only to die and resurrect (although that is quite something in itself) but is also now the ruler of heaven and our universe (Ephesians 1:22). As such, there are two options. We can either refuse to acknowledge Jesus rightful place as ruler of the world and our lives (Romans 3:10-12), or we can pledge allegiance to Christ, receive forgiveness for our rebellion and live under Jesus rule, with all the benefits that entails.

For Christians, Christmas gives us a chance to reflect on Jesus really is, what he’s done for us and what a privilege it is to know him as our king.

And if you don’t yet know him, why not spend some time in the next few days reflecting on who Jesus really is?

This talk by Jamie Child (minister at St Helen’s Church Bishopsgate) is as a good place to start. A Christianity Explored course would also be an ideal opportunity to ask any questions you might have.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Some thoughts on the Paris attacks

I was in a hotel room just outside Reading when it happened. Watching Later with Jools Holland, a chill went down my spine when out of nowhere the pictures of singing and joviality faded out to be replaced by haunting words along the lines of ‘we’re now joining the BBC News Channel live.’ Whilst it’s not my intention in the slightest to come across as trivial, you know something very serious has taken place when a scheduled TV programme is interrupted in this way, and so it unfortunately proved here.

eiffel tower

Most readers will surely by now be familiar with the terrible events two and a half weeks ago which left 132 dead, so I won’t describe the details again here. I would however like to offer some humble reflections of my own.

  1. A rush for comment

In an increasingly ‘microwave’ age, just as we demand information in a rapid, bitesize and easy to digest fashion, we also do so for in-depth analysis. This was patently demonstrated in the social media reaction (especially via Twitter) to the atrocities in France. Why did these events happen? What were the causes? Who is to blame? What is the world going to do about it? Such questions in the wake of such barbarity are nothing new, and are utterly understandable and right. Yet, it was the sheer speed at which explanations and apparently expert commentary were offered in answer to these questions which struck me. My concern is that without allowing ourselves the requisite time to consider, analyse and evaluate whether (or not) to act we’ll promote ill conceived and knee jerk solutions that potentially make things worse; this being the case both in terms of our own understanding of such atrocities and formal responses to them. Whilst in some situations rapid reaction will be necessary, it is crucial that our policy makers don’t give into the clamour for immediacy, particularly if the response demanded will have potentially long term, unintended, and life altering consequences.

2. On our doorstep

It was telling that the day before the Paris attacks, an event of similar ferocity struck the Lebanese capital of Beirut. Yet here there were no hashtags, no national anthem played at international sporting events and no Lebanese flags covering Facebook profile pictures. If the French population are deserving of such sympathy and solidarity (and I’m not for one minute suggesting that they’re not) then why aren’t the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Nigerians and the millions the world over whose lives have been scarred by terrorism? One journalist argued that their newspaper had indeed given plenty of coverage to the Beirut attack, and such an assertion wouldn’t be incorrect. Yet, to suggest that somehow the Paris and Beirut (substitute Beirut for Bamako, Aleppo or Yola) had received comparable amounts of media coverage is, I’m afraid, ludicrous. Some may retort that the differing levels of coverage only exist becausethe public demand it so. Yet, regardless of whether its the media constructing certain atrocities as ‘worse’ than others, or whether the public simply care ‘more’ about French attacks than those further away (I happen to think it’s a mixture of both) the bigger question iswhy the Paris attacks gained such greater levels of coverage.

I believe there may be at least one key reason — proximity, both in ageographical and cultural sense. In regard to the former, Paris is so much closer to us than Beirut, Yola or Bamako and therefore somehow feels so much more real to us. In terms of the latter, the attacks on Paris were not only perceived as an attack on French people but also an attack on the ‘sacred’ collective Western ideas of democracy, modernity and freedom. Perhaps it is because other ‘far off’ nations do not (apparently) share these ideals that we find it harder to feel outraged (or as outraged) when news of terrorist atrocities in Lebanon, Mali or Nigeria come to our attention. In other words, France is much more likely to be seen as a nation ‘like us’, hence why a terrorist attack here is deemed indeterminably more horrific than it would be in the Middle East, Asia or Africa. Indeed, there is a collectively shared notion that terrorism is something that normally happens ‘over there’ where ‘that sort of thing’ is to be expected. Whilst it may be true that you’re more likely to be killed by terrorism in Baghdad than London, the overriding point is that if all life is sacred, then a death from terrorism should sadden us regardless of both it’s geographical and cultural context or rarity.

3. ‘These people aren’t real Muslims’

One of the more common reactions to the violence in France has been to say ‘these attacks have nothing to do with Islam’ or ‘these people aren’t real Muslims’, or words to that effect. It is a matter of great thanksgiving that most who identify themselves as Muslims are peace loving people who want nothing to do with terrorism. Yet one cannot escape the fact that there areparts of the Quran that could quite feasibly be interpreted as justifying such acts.  

Let me be clear, my intention here is not to unfairly malign those who identify as Muslims, or to categorically declare what the correct interpretation of these verses is (the debate continues to rage here), but to encourage acknowledgement of the sad truth that ISIS and organisations like them aren’t simply making things up from the top of their heads when they command their followers to martyr themselves. Why does this matter? Because if we are to fight Islamist terrorism effectively then it is surely essential that we fully understand the root causes, theology being one (but by no means the only) motivation.

4. ‘In humanity lies the answer’

An obvious and natural and reaction to such terrible events is to unite and declare one’s ultimate faith in humanity. Maybe in one sense this is an act of defiance against those deemed as ‘other.’ ‘They’ do not represent ‘us’, and ‘we’ together , because of our ingenuity, kindness, undiminished capacity to love one another and sheer awesomeness will bring an end to terrorism and all the evil we see around us. The same logic applies even if no such ‘othering’ takes place. Somehow, love will win the day, we’ll all be sitting in a (metaphorical) circle, holding hands (metaphorically) singing Kumbaya (metaphorically). Such reactions reflect our largely secular humanist age that tells us that we are glorious self sustaining autonomous agents, bringing in a world which is progressively improving and will continue to do so inextricably. Yet becuse we can’t see beyond ourselves for a solution to the pain, we miss the wood for the trees. We might not like to admit it, but if history teaches us one thing it is that evil done by humans, whether in the form of terrorism or some other ill, will never flee us. This isn’t to say of course that we shouldn’t implement ideas and policies to improve things, of course we should! Yet ultimately, humanity, in the name of this that and the other will continue to commit all sorts of horrors against it’s own race. Thus, the foundational problem of evil will never go away. If its a solution to the indelible problem of evil we’re after, we’d surely do well to start by looking beyond ourselves.

The Shame of Being a Meat Eater

I have a terrible confession to make: I really like meat. I know, I’m a monster. Not literally, like the Loch Ness Monster or Albi the racist dragon, but for liking and consuming my fair share of beef, chicken, pork and lamb et al. I do sometimes feel rather under the cosh. At best we’re viewed by ‘the other side’ as ignorant and irresponsible citizens unaware of the terrible treatment we’re subjecting our fellow animal earth dwellers to, and at worst we’re condemned as callous and evil murderers with a disgusting lust for sweet chilli chicken.

I’m slightly over exaggerating of course, but I can’t be the only one who has noticed the increasing number of social media content from animal rights organisations such as Mercy For Animals, the UK Cattle Protection League, Colin the Chicken for President (ok I made the latter two up) showing often graphic content depicting animal cruelty and death. The point of such content appears pretty similar all round, to encourage the consumer to abandon meat and embrace a vegetarian lifestyle, or even better, a vegan one. Moreover, such campaigns seem to imply that in continuing to eat meat we’re responsible for the suffering of farmed animals, and that if we all just embraced a meat free lifestyle everything would be ok. It’s all enough to make this writer feel rather guilty.

Now I’m not here to deny that animal cruelty is indeed cruel and that more should be done to encourage more compassionate practices throughout the world, absolutely, 100 per cent. Yet I’m really not sure shifting the burden of responsibility on to the consumer is the way to go; this being the case both from a pragmatic perspective – I’m not sure this is the most effective strategy to achieve better animal welfare practices, or from a fairness perspective – whilst consumers make certain choices in terms of what they buy it is unfair to blame consumer for animal cruelty. Both points centre on a number of key variables which as far as I can tell are almost entirely ignored by social media campaigns; industry, government and regulation.

In shifting the focus almost exclusively on consumer ‘choice’ such campaigns and organisations ignore the levers and powers of industry and government to affect change. After all, isn’t this where the real problem lies, in industry practices and techniques used to exploit animals for profit? It is these powers that ‘hold all the cards’ in terms of controlling conditions for millions of animals, and as a result it would surely be a better use of time to lobby these stakeholders rather than target individual consumers by shovelling guilt onto them.

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say such campaigns actually let industry, government and regulatory bodies off the hook. This is done by implying (albeit implicitly) that individuals are to blame for animal cruelty for making the choice to buy meat, and not those with legal duties of care who could implement wide scale reforms that’d improve conditions for livestock and still ensure a healthy profit for industry. Put another way, if I were a large scale meat processor or farmer I’d actually get behind campaigns like those by Mercy for Animals. I might say for instance; ‘yeah look guys, we’re just producing what consumers want here, if consumers told us that they wanted more ethically produced meat then we’d do it, but they don’t, so they’re the ones actually responsible for the cruelty.’

Having said all of that, let’s assume industry and regulators actually do take the mettle and agree to transnational change which results in happier more, less ethically challenged animals. Would that be enough for some animal rights campaigners? Not a chance. There’s a strong underlying moral assumption at play here, namely that animals and humans are of equal value. To eat them is implied as being akin to murder and morally reprehensible. Meat consumption should therefore be eradicated and veganism should be embraced by the World’s populace. True, other motivations such as the supposed health and financial benefits of veganism are also touted as motivators (worth an article and more in itself) but the truth it seems to me underpinning the philosophy of many of the more radical animal rights groups is that animals are on a par (in every sense of the word) with homo sapiens. This in turn explains why they employ the tactics that they do.

This I think needs addressing. What if, like me, you think animals do have intrinsic worth as living organisms and should therefore not be cruelly treated but that humans are uniquely and inherently more valuable? If you believe in animal testing for cancer treatments, or merely eating meat because it’s just so darned tasty then this principal won’t be new to you. In other words, if you do believe in a ‘hierarchy of value’ then you should have no qualms and feel no guilt about utilising animals, whether for survival or enjoyment.

In closing, I like meat. I always have done and probably always will. Yet I also accept the arguments regarding how animal welfare standards could and should improve. But what is the best way to go about this? Lobby government, regulators and industry. Don’t load all the responsibility onto the consumer. Doing so is both futile (whilst some may be converted to vegetarianism and veganism, many more will go about their lives eating meat like it’s on sale for £19.99) and ignores where the real power lies in the battle for improved animal welfare. Thus, those who wish to pursue a meat or animal product free diet should of course be entirely free to do so. But I beg of you, please no more sensationalist videos or photos? Write a letter to your MP, go and have a nice chat with your local cattle farmer, fly to Brussels! All three would surely be a better use of your time.

Right, I’m off to McDonald’s for five Big Macs.