The Conservatives could lose 500,000 votes at the 2015 General Election according to Philip Bowern, Rural Affairs Editor of the Western Morning Mail.
Bowern argues that David Cameron is uniquely placed to understand how important the issue is in the countryside as he used to hunt himself.
Whilst the hunting ban has been a constant bugbear from the political right there has been no commitment to abolish it by the Conservative Party. This is despite a major project by the Countryside Alliance called VoteOK, which sent thousands of activists across the country to help Conservative candidates in 2010.
The pro-hunting lobby had hoped that this action would galvanise the Conservatives to repeal the ban, but it did not. To make matters worse for hunts Cameron decided to sack Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary at the reshuffle.
Patterson was fired despite a warning by the Conservative Peer Lord Howard of Rising that getting rid of him would play into UKIP’s hands. At the time he said Paterson was “incredibly popular in the countryside. He is doing all those things that we in the countryside would like to see done.”
Bowern said: “David Cameron, as a former huntsman, deer stalker and occasional game shooter, ought to know better than most that those who take part in country sports consider hunting in particular to be a way of life, rather than a casual pastime.”
He went on to suggest that hunting had “flourished” since the ban was implemented in 2004, as supporters were continuing to take part in the sport with the new restrictions put on them. The so-called ban does permit hunting with dogs in certain circumstances, principally that efforts are made to ensure the fox is not killed by the dog.
Bowern cites the continued popularity of the sport as evidence that the issue has not gone away for an estimated 500,000 people. He said: “In Mr Cameron’s favour, of course, is that no one but the Conservatives are likely to bring about that change in the law. But complacency could cost him dear and lose him 500,000 crucial votes in rural constituencies that he must win.
He continued: “Pro-hunt supporters already feel let down because the PM failed to put a vote on repeal to Parliament this term. They grudgingly accept that, as things stand, the numbers don’t stack up. But if hunting isn’t in the Tory manifesto, many will switch to UKIP.”
The Western Morning Mail covers some of the most rural parts of the UK in the counties of Devon and Cornwall.