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News, Blogs & Press Releases » General election 2024: Change we must

General election 2024: Change we must

Today (Thursday 4th July) is the day of the UK’s general election. Richard McIlwain, Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society, outlines the changes we need to our food system from our new incoming government.

N.B. As a campaigning charity with a rich policy work programme, the Vegetarian Society holds no party affiliation. However, we are determined in our campaigning for animal welfare, the sustainable food agenda, the climate, and the provision of vegetarian and vegan choices for the public.

Well, today is the day – 4th July. It’s Independence Day in the United States and general election day here in the UK.

The external news agenda through June and July seems to have been a heady mix of both UK and US politics, and sometimes watching the debates on both sides of the pond can be a less than satisfactory experience. (I use the terms ‘debates’ in its loosest possible sense: more a melting pot of personal insults and soundbites, focused on who can cut taxes the most. It can sometimes feel like a race to the bottom.)

But it’s important to realise that this is politics; indeed, it’s always been politics. From the 19th century campaign rallies on ‘the stump’, through to live TV debates, it’s always been something of a dirty game, a wrestling match with a few underhand tactics never far from the surface.

Indeed, our very own Joseph Brotherton – chair of the first-ever meeting of the Vegetarian Society back in 1847 – was a liberal MP, the first-ever MP for the new urban borough of Salford, and arguably the first-ever vegetarian MP. He had to put up with many jibes about his choice to be vegetarian – how could a person survive without his beer and broth after all? Yet Brotherton went on to represent Salford five more times, so he must have been doing something right. In parliament, he was a vociferous campaigner arguing against slavery and the death penalty, and for wider access to education, parks and libraries.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s not about the bluff and bluster, the verbal digs, and the wild promises in the run-up to an election. It’s what you do and say once you are on one of the green benches in parliament, or holding the keys to No. 10.

Here, we need radical change to our priorities. Our environment and the food system on which we depend is still very much a second-class debate topic, one that never cuts though the immediacy of headline-grabbing current affairs like migration, education, health, and crime.

Food, farming and our environment are the very things without which we cease to exist, and yet the issues involved can appear too complex, interrelated and not immediate enough to be worthy of the news agenda’s attention. Parties of all colours would do well to explore our own concise manifesto published in the run-up to today’s general election, which focuses entirely on the transformation of our broken food system.

Diet and food is such a personal issue for so many people that the very idea of a prospective politician suggesting we need a change to the nation’s diet is still seen a vote loser, with a whiff of nanny statism to it and the danger of being labelled a ‘cultural Marxist’!

But change we must – and fast. And so, a new government of any persuasion needs to find ways in which to tackle this issue head on and frame this change in a way that feels inspirational, not confrontational: a change that will incentivise heathier food production and consumption, support nature friendly farming, and improve the nation’s food security.

A new government needs to be bold and lead the way in the development of a food system focused on better public health and a better environment – and of course, one which doesn’t require intensive farming and animal slaughter. Clearly, this is a more difficult ask of politicians, but it’s a job we’ll be trying our utmost to get them focused on.

Together with you, our members and supporters, we’re determined to get these critical issues on the parliamentary agenda, and our campaigning presence within Westminster is set to grow in the coming months and years.

So no matter who you cast your vote for, remember that it doesn’t end on the 5th July: it’s just the beginning. Actions after all speak louder than words.

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