Andrea Jenkyns: Global Britain can lead the way on farm animal welfare standards

13 Apr

Andrea Jenkyns is MP for Morley and Outwood.

Much of the Brexit debate centred on discussion of sovereignty and freedom; the ability to make our own laws that best reflect our own aspirations.

But my belief in sovereignty and freedom from the EU are not abstract constitutional theories. Rather, they open up a host of real and tangible benefits for our nation.

As a lifelong supporter of animal rights, I have consistently championed these newfound freedoms, and Britain’s ultimate ability to drive farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit. There would be no better area to start than to tackle some of the abuses within intensive farming.

As a vegetarian, I do not eat meat. But that does not mean I don’t care about the state of the meat industry: high animal welfare standards are non-negotiable.

Anyone who sees the images of animals whose whole very short lives are confined to factories will surely know there must be an alternative. Spotlights exposing the practices in the intensive farming industry have increased public consciousness of the issue. The success of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver’s campaign that exposed the cruelty of poultry mega-farms led to an increasing rejection of battery-farmed eggs. Scenes of physical abuse of animals and the sheer filth of conditions hit the British conscience hard.

Since then, families have opted more and more in favour of free-range choices with their weekly shop. Though there is certainly a desire for affordable meat, there is a greater appetite for meat that is fairly farmed.

The premise of intensive farming is to minimise the costs involved with “traditional” farming methods – and to fuel an appetite for cheap meat. To achieve this, space and welfare conditions are reduced to the bare minimum and technology is used to maximise yields beyond natural limits.

Yet animals should not be treated as a mere cog in a factory. There is a high welfare cost that intensive farming fails to include in the equation.

I am pleased that this Conservative Government, led by Boris Johnson, is committed to raising standards and bringing forward wide-ranging Animal Welfare bills in the new parliamentary session. Free from the restrictions of the EU, this Government can lead the way, forging a new and ambitious path to end many of the most barbaric practices of modern intensive animal farming.

From this, there are calls on the Government to consider policies surrounding areas such as the sale of fur and foie gras, trophy hunting and illegal wildlife trading, live exports, and the illegal puppy trade, among others. As a nation of animal lovers, this Government is listening to concerns with recent developments to end cruel practices.

One issue on which I hope to see a difference is intensive pig farming. In particular, reforms to the use of farrowing crates. According to the RSPCA, there are 10,400,000 pigs farmed in the UK every year. Of these, around 58 per cent of sows give birth in farrowing crates. These crates are similar to the illegal sow stall: a narrow metal cage, often on a rough concrete and slatted floor. Very often the space is so restrictive that the sow cannot turn around, and she can only stand up and lie down with difficulty. The UK rightly banned this practice.

Farrowing crates are only slightly different from sow stalls, having space to the side for the piglets, with bars to keep the sow out of the piglets’ lying area to prevent crushing. Yet tragically, they remain in use. Sows are placed in farrowing crates for up to five weeks around the time of giving birth.

The cruelty of this practice is that by restricting their movement, sows cannot behave naturally to build a nest and get comfortable at birth. The crates keep the sow in place and unable to move away from her piglets when they bite her teats. This has the knock-on effect of requiring piglets to then be tooth-clipped without anaesthetic. The impact of such an environment is that sows become distressed, frustrated and bored, leading to aggression and biting other pigs’ tails.

Clearly this is neither a sustainable nor fair method of farming.

So what can be done? Some countries such as Norway and Switzerland have banned farrowing crates. I know the Government plans to be ambitious in its agenda to raise welfare standards. As such, a range of measures to at last eradicate cruelty within intensive pig farming will no doubt be looked into.

Ultimately, I know that meat-eaters will be happier; conscious that back at the farm, the pig was treated as fairly as possible. Getting meat on the table to feed a family ought not to require pushing pigs to the limits.

Post-Brexit, transforming practices and standards across Britain on the issue of farm animal welfare standards can make our country stand out as a beacon of good agricultural practice. This Government has already made strides towards bolstering animal welfare standards, and it is an arena where we can truly become a leader in the field.

Rob Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 3) Andrea Jenkyns

1 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 12 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Andrea Jenkyns

Andrea Jenkyns has built her following on an unwavering pursuit of Brexit. Both her communications style and her parliamentary career have been shaped by an outspoken desire to take us out of the EU on terms which would impose minimum restrictions on a global Britain.

It’s a message which has served her well in her constituency where 60 per cent voted to leave the EU. A former councillor, she ousted Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood at the 2015 general election. The victory, on a thin majority of 422 (0.9 per cent), has since been cemented, growing to 11,267 (21.7 per cent) in 2019.

Her messaging style leaves voters with little doubt as to what they’re getting, but the lack of compromise has caused friction within the party. Jenkyns resigned from her early government role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to focus on her work on the Exiting the European Union Committee.

The backbenches have suited her well. Without a Government post to dampen her attacks on Theresa May’s negotiation of a Brexit deal, she was a frequent and severe critic before it became commonplace. She has taken the place of Steve Baker (number 14 on this list) on the European Research Group following his promotion to Chair.

The challenge for her moving forward is twofold: to succeed within the party without ruffling too many feathers, and to maintain relevance when Brexit ultimately ceases to inspire public interest. Jenkyns is entirely willing to get into blue-on-blue scraps on Twitter, but it’s a costly approach which would be better directed at the opposition benches.

Regarding Brexit, she is likely to be a prominent voice as negotiations heat up towards December. But assuming a satisfactory agreement is ultimately reached, public interest will wane, and Jenkyns risks being left a rebel without a cause.

Rob Sutton: Introducing the top 50 Conservative MPs on Twitter

29 Jun

Conservative MP Twitter power rankings: the top 50

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Amongst the social media giants, Twitter is the primary battleground for political discourse. It’s also one of the key avenues by which MPs convey their message, and has near-universal uptake by members in the current House of Commons.

The effectiveness with which Twitter is utilised varies considerably between MPs, but it is difficult to compare like-for-like. How does one take into account the differences between, for instance, a freshman MP and a veteran Cabinet member? Length of service in Parliament and ministerial rank give a considerable advantage when building a following.

In this article, I have compiled a power ranking of MPs in the current Parliament, with the top 50 shown in the chart above. The MP’s follower count was adjusted by factoring in their previous experience, to better reflect the strength of their following and their success at engagement on the platform.

Being Twitter-savvy is about more than just a high follower count: any Secretary of State can achieve this just by virtue of the media exposure their office brings. Building a Twitter following based on thoughtful commentary and authentic engagement requires skill ,and can be achieved by members across all Parliamentary intakes and ranks of Government.

Though the top 10 is still dominated by MPs holding senior ministerial offices, the composition of the list beyond it is far more variable. A number of prominent backbenchers are in the top 20, and four members from the 2019 intake make the top 50, beating longer-serving and higher-ranked colleagues.

I hope that this list serves as recognition of the skill and contribution by Conservative members to public debate and engagement, beyond ministerial duties which so often dominate any mention in the media.

Building a model of Twitter power rankings

Success is judged by number of followers, with higher follower counts indicating greater influence on Twitter. The follower count was adjusted using three key parameters:

  • The number of years since an MP was first elected to Parliament.
  • The number of years the MP’s Twitter account has been active.
  • Their highest rank within Government achieved since 2010.

Higher values for each of these would be expected to contribute to a higher follower count. I built a model using the open-source Scikit-Learn package, and fitted it to data from the current Parliament.

The model was then used to predict how many followers a given MP might expect to have based on these three factors. The steps taken to produce a final “Twitter power score” were thus as follows:

  • Using these three factors, multiple linear regression was used to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers an MP might have.
  • Their true follower count was divided by the expected follower count to produce a single number which represented the MP’s performance at building a following.
  • Finally, a logarithm was taken of this ratio to make the number more manageable and to produce a final Twitter power score.

The final step of taking a logarithm means it is easier to compare between MPs without those who have very high follower counts (such as Boris Johnson) making the data difficult to compare, but it does not affect the order of the ranking.

Compiling the data

Having decided which factors to correct the model for, I collected the required information. All three factors were easy to find reliable sources for. The Twitter page for each MP displays the date the account was created, and the Parliamentary website provides the date of their first election to Parliament and previous government posts.

Members who are newly returned to the backbenches following governmental duties (such as Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt) are scored at their highest government rank since 2010 to recognise this. I was able to find the Twitter accounts and required information for 319 Conservative MPs who were included in this ranking.

To build a model based on this data required incorporating the highest government rank numerically. To do this, I assigned scores according to their rank. These grades recognised their relative seniority and media exposure associated with the office, with higher scores assigned to more senior positions:

  • Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State, Speakers, Leaders of the House and Chief Whips are scored 3.
  • Ministers of State, Deputy Speakers and Deputy Chief Whips are scored 1.
    Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and Whips are scored 0.5.
  • Backbenchers score 0.

When assigning these values, I considered the typical sizes of follower counts of MPs in each category. When comparing Secretaries of States to Ministers of State, the median follower count is around twice the size, but the mean follower count is around eight times the size, as a handful of very large follower count skews the results upwards.

Deciding on weightings requires a (somewhat arbitrary) decision as to which measures to use when comparing between groups, and the scores I decided on were ultimately chosen as a compromise across these different measures, which produced stable results when used in the model.

It is also worth explaining why Prime Ministers are grouped with Secretaries of State, despite the far higher media exposure and seniority of their post. When deciding on the respective weighting for different levels of government post, a sufficiently large pool of MPs was needed to produce a meaningful comparison. The only data points for comparison of Prime Ministers are Boris Johnson and Theresa May, so it is difficult to give them their own weighting without it being either unreliable or arbitrary.

While grouping them with Secretaries of State and other senior positions might be perceived as giving them an unfair advantage in the weighting, I felt it justified given these challenges in determining the “fair” weight to assign them. With this done, I had three parameters for each MP on which to build a model to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers.

Calculating the number of expected Twitter followers

I built a model to calculate the expected number of Twitter followers using the Scikit-Learn, a popular machine learning package in the Python programming language. The model used multiple linear regression to fit the input parameters to the known follower count.

The input data was prepared by removing extreme high outliers in the data which skewed the fit toward high numbers and away from the vast majority of MPs before fitting. Once fitted, an “expected value” of Twitter followers could be calculated for each MP, based on the year of their first election to parliament, the number of years on Twitter and their highest government rank since 2010.

Including more parameters increases the ability of the model to describe the difference between MPs’ follower counts (the variability). By increasing the number of input variables included in the model, more of the variability is captured:

  • One variable captures between 20.3 per cent and 36.1 per cent of the variability.
  • Two variables capture between 39.1 per cent and 43.1 per cent of the variability.
  • All three variables capture 48.7 per cent of the variability.

These three variables are therefore responsible for almost half of the variation between MPs in their follower counts. The remainder of the variability is likely due to a range of factors which the model does not include, of which the MP’s Twitter-savviness is of particular interest to us. I discuss these factors further below.

Limitations in the model

There are multiple other parameters which could be included in future iterations which I did not include in this model. In particular:

  • Membership or Chairmanship of Select Committees.
  • Previous election to a council, assembly, devolved legislature or the European Parliament.
  • Membership of the Privy Council.
  • Government positions prior to 2010.
  • Prominent positions within the Conservative Party, such as the 1922 Committee or European Research Group.
  • Twitter-savviness and effectiveness of their comms team.

Another limitation was not accounting for the perceived relative importance of various governmental departments: a Great Office of State or Prime Minister is scored the same as any other Secretary of State. The difficulties involved in ranking governmental departments were beyond this first model. The length of service in a given government post was also not considered.

Finally, the choice of model to fit the data may not be the optimal choice. Multiple linear regression assumes, per the name, that the distribution is linear. But the large outliers might be better described by a power law or Pareto distribution, or the non-linearities of a neural network.

During next week, ConservativeHome will produce profiles of six individual MPs who have performed notably well in the power rankings, and who reflect the contributions brought by members beyond their ministerial duties, if they have any.