It’s reasonably difficult to unite the disparate partisans of town and gown in Oxford, but this mob have figured out how to do it.
The chants of ‘Oxford University: Animal Abusers! Oxford University: Animal Killers!’ went up outside the Sheldonian on Saturday. People were graduating, although the Oxford student the protesters decided to target wasn’t a graduand – just on her way to a function requiring sub-fusc.
The story has all the elements of a killer epic, though. And like so many of their ilk, the Animal Libbers’ exaggerated sense of moral certitude seems to have set many local peoples’ teeth on edge. We’ve had bombs in an Oxford college, chanting protesters swirling around the Examination Schools (during Finals, too) and the Bodleian Library shut down for ‘security reasons’. And being fairly comical dopes, the building they managed to shut houses the University’s classics and philosophy collections. It’s the famous one featured in the Harry Potter franchise. Go figure.
The Animal Libbers also produced a peculiarly Oxford non-response. Seemingly incapable of defending their science or their ideas, the University’s Dons and Nobel Laureates finished up led by a 16 year old high school student who founded Pro-Test, a body supporting the Oxford Animal Lab.
Inevitably, too, there’s a peculiarly British political angle. Brendan O’Neill in the New Statesman had this to say after the first big Pro-Test demo:
It was the loudest, liveliest and most youthful demo I’ve been on in a long time. Its demands were progressive – in defence of ‘science, reason and the welfare of mankind’, no less. And yet the left was nowhere to be seen. There weren’t any of those SWP placards that usually cluster around the merest sneeze of protest, and no veterans of 1970s splits bickering on the sidelines over whose position was most correct. It was a left-free zone.
That is because it was the demonstration to defend the building of a research laboratory at the University of Oxford, where experiments will be conducted on animals. And when it comes to animal research, the left keeps a cowardly silence or, worse, pitches its tent on the wrong side of the barricade.
Saturday’s demo was organised by Pro-Test, the brainchild of Laurie Pycroft, a 16-year-old boy from Swindon, who thinks it is time that progressives stood up to the animal-rights activists. About 700 people – students, academics, mums with sick kids and others – marched to the half-built lab, chanting catchy slogans such as: ‘Animal testing cures disease/Human beings before chimpanzees’.
I’m not convinced the political dimension is as clear as O’Neill makes out, but there’s no doubt some of the sillier and more obscurantist elements in the environment movement seem allergic to modernity and what it embodies. Sometimes, it’s almost as though they resent the fact that all those plasma tellies finish up in the loungerooms of people once considered ‘poor’.
There’s a public Facebook photo essay of Saturday’s protests available here.
UPDATE: The Pro-Test site is down, not sure why. It was fine when I wrote the post last night (UK time), but has fallen over since. With any sort of luck it’ll be back up soon.