As a lover of both politics and horse racing, natural I’m inquisitive to find out more about what the three main parties would have in store for the sport should they win the general election on December 12.
And it’s not just the actual sport I’m interested in: as a passionate advocate of animal welfare and the furtherance of ensuring the risk to horses is minimised on the flat and over jumps, I’m intrigued to know if any changes to regulations such as a ban on the whip might come into play.
So here’s a quick guide as to how the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats plan to govern horse racing and their attitudes to animal welfare.
The Conservatives on Horse Racing
Nine pages of the Conservative manifesto for 2019 are handed over to sports, but the main angle is ways in which they plan to boost engagement in schools and a grassroots level.
Dig a bit deeper, both into the document itself and previous conversations that Tory minister have had in the public domain, and we note a party not wishing to make radical changes to horse racing and its related industries.
Indeed, they haven’t really made any promises to change horse racing as a sport, and the main gist of their policies relates to betting on the horses, and how that might change going forward.
It’s interesting to note that Boris Johnson’s current squeeze, Carrie Symonds, is a noted animal rights campaigner. She will surely have been in the ear of the PM to get this issue put higher up on the agenda, and credit to her for that.
Under Theresa May in the 2017 election, the Tories were willing to support foxhunting by putting it to an open vote in the Commons, but it appears that such barbarism is off the table under Boris’ regime.
Wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer revealed this week that he had been contacted by Conservative representatives about the foxhunting ban, and specifically how the party could ‘strengthen’ it as part of their election pledges.
Labour on Horse Racing
One of the big movers on the topic will be Labour, if they stick to their promises in their manifesto at least.
They have promised a full, frank and rigorous investigation into whip use in horse racing, specifically to find out if its use as ‘encouragement’ is justifiable.
In response, Will Lambe – the executive director of the current regulatory body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) – said: “We respect the right of politicians to ask questions of our sport and we can – and do – reassure them of the high standards of welfare in British racing, and the steps we are taking to enhance our welfare record and reputation.
“We have had constructive engagement with Labour’s Shadow Defra team to date, and will respond in a measured and united way as a sport to ensure that the appropriate facts and information are set out confidently and fairly.”
Gambling on horse racing has also been a hot topic for Labour, although it should be said that the main driver of that – their former deputy leader Tom Watson – will stand down at the general election.
But Jeremy Corbyn has promised to put gambling addiction in a framework of support services alongside drink and drug abuse, while creating a new Gambling Act that is ‘fit for the digital age’.
The Liberal Democrats on Horse Racing
The most vocal party on animal welfare has undoubtedly been the Liberal Democrats.
In their manifesto for the general election, Jo Swinson and co wrote that ‘….all possible steps should be taken to promote animal welfare and prevent animal suffering, with better protection for animals, and full regard for animal welfare’.
You can’t disagree with that, and the focus of their ire will be horse racing – specifically, they plan to absolve the BHA of all power, introducing a new independent regulatory body that would go further in preventing the ‘abuse and avoidable deaths’ of horses in training and on the racetrack.
The Lib Dems are shining a light on the horse racing industry as far as betting is concerned too. They plan to introduce a compulsory levy that all betting firms and bookmakers would pay a percent age of their profits into. This fund would then be used to fund the treatment of, and research into, problem gambling.
They also want to see gambling advertisement removed from TV at all times, while employing their own Ombudsman to oversee regulations in the business.