AN MEP who branded Staffordshire Bull Terriers as ‘child killers’ was unceremoniously dumped from office last Sunday when he failed to win his seat as one of the ten MEPs for the London area.
Richard Balfe gained notoriety four years ago at the height of the German ‘dangerous dogs’ crisis, which was sparked by a trained fighting Pit Bull Terrier killing a six year-old boy in a Hamburg playground. This led to a media-fuelled hysterical frenzy against all dog owners in Germany and led to many owners and their dogs being abused and assaulted in public, with the tacit approval of the German Government. Despite widespread protests, the Federal and Regional States Governments enacted a whole raft of anti-dog laws, most of which exist to this day.
When the anti-dog crisis blew up, dog owners around the world formed the anti-BSL Internet pressure group ‘Dog Holocaust’ and complained to Members of the European Parliament about the German Government’s draconian dog laws, which included the Government’s plans to include Staffordshire Bull Terriers amongst the list of ‘dangerous’ breeds which should be banned in Germany, along with their plans to have these laws and breed bans taken up throughout the EU. To this end, a number of campaigners e-mailed British MEPs for their support in the matter.
Richard Balfe, then a Labour MEP responded to French anti-BSL campaigner Pascal Marteau by e-mail in July 2000 referring to an earlier e-mail in which M Marteau had said that Staffordshire Bull Terriers were dogs of good temperament and were often referred to as ‘nanny dogs’.
Mr Balfe said:" I do not know which English people call them ‘nanny dogs’, they are killer dogs for many children. I am however prepared for the inevitable Euro-Compromise; you can have them in France as long as we can get rid of them in England.
"You seem to conveniently overlook the fact that these animals have repeatedly been associated with killing children.
"They also have owners who in Britain anyway often exhibit the sort of nasty aggressive behaviour that most decent citizens dislike intensely. No; ‘Dear little Staffie’ is best done without."
There followed a huge outcry, during which Mr Balfe underwent what he referred to as a "rapid learning curve" about Staffords, after which he apologised via OUR DOGS and DogHolocaust if his remarks had caused offence.
Since making these remarks, Mr Balfe’s political career had undergone some quite startling changes. Since 1994 he had been one of the five Quaestors of the European Parliament. Quaestors are the House Administration Committee that look after the members' interests and are elected every two years in a secret ballot.
Because the Labour Party lost so many seats in the 1999 Euro election, the Party no longer had the right to bid for Mr Balfe’s continued position in the carve up of jobs. Nominated by his friends as an independent, Mr Balfe stood for election as quaestor in 1999 and won once again. The then Labour leader in the European Parliament, Alan Donnelly, decided it was a democratic election and decided not to take any action against Mr Balfe for standing as an independent.
However, in 2001 the new Labour leader in the European Parliament, Simon Murphy, would not accept such a challenge to his authority and told Mr Balfe that if he stood for election as quaestor he would be expelled from the Labour Party. Despite this threat, Mr Balfe stood as an independent quaestor again and was elected in a secret ballot on 16th January 2002.
Two days later, on 18th January, the Labour Party expelled him, and he subsequently joined the Conservative Party in October 2003, but did not vacate his seat.
During last week’s elections, Mr Balfe’s vote dropped considerably and he was placed fifth out of the Conservative nominees, with only the first three gaining seats as MEPS under the Proportional Representation system, so he will vacate his position in July 2004.
The cause of Mr Balfe’s political demise has been cited as his having changed parties last year, although many anti-BSL campaigners in the London area will cite their long memories at the ignorance and arrogance of politicians who belittle dogs and their owners.