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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Vegan Conservatives: the plant-based wing of the UK’s right

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The Vegan Conservatives are breaking down misconceptions around Toryism; promoting veganism for the benefit of human health, animal welfare, and the environment.

Typing the words “Vegan Conservatives” into Google or social media channels feels strange. For too long, the term has been seen as an oxymoron. Now, I am met with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages promoting the link between veganism and the Conservative Party, as opposed to posts about how the two concepts are incompatible, and anybody who identifies as both is doing one of them “wrong”.

I, for one, think anything or anyone that encourages veganism to be discussed with mainstream political circles is a good thing. So who are the Vegan Conservatives, and what do they represent?

Vegan Conservatives is a subgroup of the governing Conservative Party. It is made up of politicians, local authority figures, and members of the public. It hit headlines in January 2021 when, with the help of Veganuary, at least 10 Tory MPs went vegan for the month.

The founders took the opportunity to highlight to the world that veganism does align with conservative ways of thinking and voters. Fundamentally, the group launched to “create a friendly and positive network of like-minded people” and “encourage others to move towards veganism”, ax executive member Alison Knight tells me.

There are many ways in which conservatism supports the vegan movement. For one, at the heart of conservatism, is a desire to, well… conserve, so by default, it would seem that a party wanting to protect our environment would highlight that animal agriculture is leading to an ecological disaster.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Vegan Conservatives UK Ⓥ (@veganconservativesuk)

Members of the Vegan Conservatives also point out that a core tenet of conservatism is to respect the rights of individuals. As described on its website, they say “we should treat other sentient living beings as individuals — not as mere objects”.

The sub-group’s very existence breaks down common misconceptions. First, that veganism is not just for young hipsters, liberal students, or those leaning towards the left of the political spectrum. Second, that progressive political policies on the environment or animal welfare are no longer for the “green” parties as they were 15 years ago — nor is it that the Tories only care about fox hunting.

At this point, it is necessary to discuss why people do feel these two ways of life are juxtapositions. For many individuals, veganism is more than simply a diet. Indeed, though being a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, animal suffering and death, it is also, for some, a way to reject authority, capitalism, and notions of hierarchy both between animals and humans. For people of this persuasion, veganism is a tool to anarchism, and therefore, rightly or wrongly, being a vegan and a Conservative voter is antithetical.

However, politically minded people like to come together over a shared passion. For the Vegan Conservatives, passion is in the name. For members of the public who are vegan and conservative thinking, they now have a space to express their opinions without criticism.

Even as it grows, veganism remains a niche and small in numbers. With a Conservative government in power, it would be a mistake by the vegan movement to tread down on this opportunity to influence, assist and lobby the government on our behalf, promoting our shared values and aims. The group is a resource that can be utilised and has already shown tangible progress.

The current Tory government would already claim to be having a successful time with its Green Agenda. With carbon reduction targets (committing to reduce CO2 emissions by 78% by 2035), the hosting of COP26, and, with the help of Carrie Symonds, no new badger culling licences to be handed out after next year, some things seem to be moving in the right direction — even though in reality, lots of these policies are failing to be met in entirety.

More importantly, these policies fail to address the realities of animal agriculture and the cruel realities of some of our “key” industries.

This is where the Vegan Conservatives come in. In March, the group joined calls for top designers to ban fur within the UK — a historic decision Israel made this month, the first country to do so. In April, it also encouraged more MPs to eat vegan for Earth Day and supported business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s call for more people to give up animal products to meet the UK’s target of net-zero carbon by 2050.

In June, Vegan Conservatives began lobbying for the government to follow suit after the European parliament’s suggestion to ban caged farm animals by 2027 (558 were in favour) and pushed again for banning the import and export of foie gras. All its campaigns and lobbying attempts root back to the main focus: “To encourage and support people, to live a more healthy and green lifestyle, which, in turn, protects our planet and animals.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Vegan Conservatives UK Ⓥ (@veganconservativesuk)

The Vegan Conservatives have consistently raised their voice on key issues, and it’s a good start. In the world of politics, major change can take a very long time. In the world of veganism, this will only be exacerbated, given the general population still needs to be brought on board. Consequently, vegan Tories lobbying on our behalf and creating momentum on plant-based issues in a public sphere will help.

Veganism doesn’t need to be associated with one’s political ideology and belief if they don’t want it to. Everyone’s relationship with veganism is personal, and therefore it can remain apolitical. If a person was interested in joining the Vegan Conservatives, though, they can. The demographic audience is not as niche as you might expect. It has members of different genders, ages, vocations and geographical location. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the Conservative party, have to pay, or need to be vegan to join.

I do, however, recommend you’re at least slightly sympathetic towards both the party and the vegan movement. I imagine you’ll be in for some sticky, and somewhat unnecessary, conversations otherwise.

So, to those who believe that to be a vegan and a Tory is a conflict, maybe think otherwise. Embrace the fact more people are going vegan, and forget about what colour tie they vote for in the ballet. And to the vegans who are Conservatives, hide no more.

As the chat comes to a close, there is one final question Knight wants to answer. “What is your biggest regret about being vegan?”

“That I didn’t do it years earlier.”

Read our story about why veganism should be apolitical.

Kathryn Parsons
Kathryn is a history graduate from the University of Exeter, with an aspiration to have in a career in politics & lobbying for more vegan-friendly policies in order to combat our biggest societal issues including climate change, and our health crisis. After suffering from years of pain, and undiagnosed gastric problems following a perforated stomach ulcer at 18 years old, Kathryn took to healing herself through a whole food plant-based diet. Now holding a certification in Nutrition, Kathryn seeks to spread the medical power of plants, and encourage those with gastric conditions to consider embracing this diet. In her spare time, Kathryn is a qualified personal trainer, under the name KP Fitness, and uses this position to improves societies’ physical fitness, as well as breaking down common myths around fitness and veganism… yes, you can get enough protein!