Brian May's Funeral March for Badgers Killed in the Cull Was Very Weird
Three years since it started, the government are still intent on blasting badgers to death and the Queen guitarist is still trying to stop them.
The government's badger cull is back for a third year, and Queen guitarist Brian May still isn't happy about it. How unhappy is he? Well, he's released a version of classic internet anthem "Badger Badger Badger", he's helped set up a badger-based lobby group called Team Badger, and yesterday, he decided to stage a badger funeral procession in London, from Millbank to the Houses of Parliament, just to tell the rotters in Cameron's Pinochet-esque Badger Death Squads that enough is enough.
The government shot 2,263 badgers last summer, in an effort to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis, a disease that has never quite been stamped out in British dairy herds.
At one point, making a speech to the protesters, the Labour MP Angela Smith pointed out that for all their emphasis on frugality it had cost the government £7,000 per badger death – £17 million on the programme in total. I looked around. Was everyone thinking what I was thinking? ('I'll do it for £5,000, no bother, no questions asked.') If they were, they weren't letting on.
The problem, in (very) brief, is that badgers are carriers of bovine tuberculosis, so you can do what you like to the cows, but if the badgers keep coughing on them, then the mess never gets properly sorted and you have a sick herd. A 2010 Defra report put the cost over the decade around £1 billion. Solution? Kill badgers, according to the National Farmers' Union (NFU). Not so, according to Brian and about 80 badger-loving young people he'd managed to persuade to don black and participate in his piece of press theatre.
We arrived at Dr Brian's Badger Funeral just before midday, and already a few dozen press photographers were milling about, while Brian, resplendent in what he described as a "ratskin coat" he said he'd picked up in Venice, answered questions from two different ITV reporters about the judicial review he and Team Badger were submitting against the cull. "We're very optimistic," he said.
The hearse turned up, and the protesters and Brian posed in front of it until the press pack seemed to have "got the shot". Everyone tried to avoid mentioning the uncomfortable fact that the previous day this hearse had probably contained a granddad who'd had emphysema.
"Team Badger", it said on one side. "# failing badger cull" it said on the other."Sparing his life from this monstrosity" said one woman's placard. "Another one bites the dust": no one said that.
"Here, Brian, can I get a photo with you and me and my granddad?" asked one guy, very visibly not protesting on account of his bright pink shirt.
"Only if you're going to march with us," said Brian, grumpily."This is work for me, you know."
"Yeah, sure we will," said the bloke. "There you go, that's one for ya..." he said to his granddad, as the pair of them sloped off up a side street before the march had even begun. They had abused Brian May's credulousness in order to get the picture they wanted. But then, that picture would always be sullied by their poor moral choices. Brian could at least content himself with that.
Soon the badger lovers were steeling themselves and setting out on the arduous six-minute walk from St John's Square to the Palace of Westminster, where they were met by another crowd of protesters, beneath the statue of George V, badger-lover first, King Of England second.
Brian kicked things off by giving a little speech about how this "callous regime" fails to follow the advice of the very scientists they'd appointed to look into the issue – last week, the scientists called for an end to the cull. The evidence, everyone who spoke pointed out, was that the cull simply wasn't effective. Ninety-odd percent of dead badgers were healthy. This was all politically motivated – the government was, for some reason, in the pocket of "their mates in the NFU".
Soon, it was the turn of Lush's Ethical Director, Hilary Jones, a veteran of these kinds of events, who also managed to set off the klaxon for First Mention Of The Iraq War.
At this point, a bunch of blokes in cycling gear were clustered round a trestle table replete with reasonable quality sandwiches. "Cycle For Sepsis", the legend on the backs of their cycle suits proclaimed. They were in high spirits, as they'd clearly recently cycled successfully for sepsis. "Simon! Simon! Simon!" they chanted – perhaps this was the name of the sepsis-sufferer for whom they'd been cycling. They posed for a laddish team photo by the barricades but the badger crew peered over at these noisy troublemakers. Someone officiously shushed them.
Sadly, it appeared that British politics couldn't incorporate both anti-sepsis and pro-badger fraternities. Only a badger with sepsis could have brought them together.
Veteran cause-botherer Caroline Lucas was there, too. "We are the people we've been waiting for," she said by way of a finale. Oh, Caroline, bet you say that to all the causes.
The next speaker was Peter Martin, head of something called the Badger Trust. Like Brian May himself, Peter Martin had a distinct air of badger to him, just in a subtly different way. His wide back hunched up to a point, exaggerated by his heavily-shouldered suit. He seemed like he would win in a fight with a baboon, that sort of thing. "Badgers," said Peter Martin, his voice a crescendo, "are having their brains blown out, onto the walls of caves." This seemed a very graphic way of framing things. Yet he said it again, later. "Badgers are having their brains blown out, onto the walls of caves, and even the grass around..."
Was Peter Martin a bit like your mate who talks about how much he hates gays and the horrible things they do with their plump, ripe, firm penises? Was he maybe a little too interested in these badgers' brain splatters?
As the speeches began to blur into one, I observed a Japanese woman who was passing by applying the zoom on her camera to breaking point, zooming in and in and in, until only Brian May's distant face was visible on the screen, a greyish haze of Lego-man pixels. She clicked the shutter.
Then it was the turn of "TV's Marc The Vet". Who sounded the klaxon for First Martin Luther King Quote. He omitted MLK's legendary "Stop Splatting Badgers' Brains Out On The Walls Of Caves And The Grass Around Them, You Horrible Shits" speech, choosing instead to concentrate on something more anodyne about how the "arc of history is long but in the end always bends towards justice".
Iain McGill is a vet who apparently "blew the whistle" on BSE back in the 90s. Which is fascinating, but everyone had lost interest by this point. Arms ached with placards maintaining the ineffectiveness of culling. The man with a guitar who had been singing a Buzzcocks-style version of "We Are The Champions" with the words changed to better reflect badger rights, hopped from foot to foot.
Brian said a quick thanks, the protest was over, and the crowd gradually ebbed away. The protesters, back to their ordinary lives. TV's Marc The Vet back to TV Land. Brian, back to his Sussex rock mansion, occasionally climbing to the highest balustrades to practice playing "God Save The Queen" on his guitar, in anticipation of The Queen's platinum jubilee in 2027. God save this marvellous man. And God save badgers.
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