"Michael Gove’s Wild Animals in Circuses Bill appears at first glance to be nothing more than his latest essay in exhibitionistic compassion. But is it a misreading to ascribe this picayune law-making to opportunistic big-heartedness?"
Michael Gove’s Wild Animals in Circuses Bill appears at first glance to be nothing more than his latest essay in exhibitionistic compassion. There are, after all, fewer than 20 performing animals left in English circuses. At least 200 local authorities already have a ban in place. So has Scotland. So have more than 30 European countries. The Great Aberdonian Legislator is courageously adhering to current orthodoxy. There’s no doubt about that.
But is it a misreading to ascribe this picayune law-making to opportunistic big-heartedness? It’s just as likely that Gove, along with a dozen or so mutually respectful backstabbers, is getting in a spot of practice in the base human traits of identifying as, say, a knitting ocelot and feeling the pain of being an eau de Nil poodle who cartwheels. Last month’s circus of Tory leadership hopefuls were busily empathising with juggling camels, skateboarding panthers, zebras who have mastered ronds de jambe and, as Mrs Gove mysteriously has it, “elephants on this column”, creatures who have, presumably, been trained as proboscidean stylites: it really shouldn’t happen to a jumbo. I hear what you’re saying, say the backstabbers, to a brown bear who’ll deliver a lutz and a triple salchow at the drop of a hat. But of course they don’t hear, and if they do they won’t act on it. What if the bear (or reindeer or wolf) wants to stay in the circus? What if it likes its life on the road? What if the fellow animal whose habits it most aspires to is the sloth? What if it enjoys regular meals? What if it is cushy and secure in a way that it might not be if released into the wild whose call it doesn’t heed?
All the animals in the circus know that the outside world is peopled by unenlightened gamekeepers and murderous farmers, tooled up and waiting for any threat to grouse or sheep. All the animals prefer to take lessons from the unflinching realism of Beatrix Potter rather than be soothed by George Monbiot’s fantasies of bucolic bliss. All the animals are insulted by their characterisation as “wild”. They are not. They are tame softies. They don’t want to be deported: they are civilised.