The Countryside Alliance has launched a new e-lobbying drive as part of it’s campaign to secure the repeal of the fox-hunting ban.
The ban on hunting with dogs, which encompasses both fox hunting and hare coursing, has arguably been the most visible manifestation of Britain’s class wars in the 21st Century. It has certainly gifted the annals of history some notable moments.
In 2002 more than 400,000 people turned up for the Liberty and Livelihood march through central London to protest the plans for a ban. As a show of defiance from the normally silent majority it was quite a spectacle; thought to be the largest demonstration in Britain since the 19th Century.
Nonetheless, the ban on hunting with dogs was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government three years later, following years of bitter wrangling between the House of Commons and House of Lords. The then Speaker Michael Martin was obliged to invoke the Parliament Act for only the fourth time since 1949 to force the ban through.
Since then, the Conservatives have been promising to repeal the ban; a pledge which is popular with its rural base. Many hunts donated hours of volunteer time to help with Conservative hopefuls’ election campaigns, through the Vote OK initiative; unsurprisingly, those volunteers expect their efforts to be repaid through a repeal.
However, a repeal is not universally popular throughout the Conservative ranks. Consequently, the party’s most recent manifesto included a pledge not to repeal the Act, but merely to hold an open vote on the matter, stating: “A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”
The Countryside Alliance is now urging supporters to write to their local MP and has crafted a suggested letter which supporters can put their name to. It reads in part: “This may seem a minor issue besides others the Government faces, but for many of us it is a fundamental issue of personal freedom.
“There was never any justification for the ban in the first place and it was little more than a misplaced attack on the rural community. It has done nothing for wild mammals or their welfare, and even Tony Blair has admitted it was one of his biggest mistakes.
“There are many who are willing to voice their views on hunting from a position of total ignorance, but there is also a quiet army of us who know that the ban is wrong.”
The Alliance has said that the letter is intended both to remind Conservative MPs “that a vote on repeal was a manifesto commitment,” and to urge MPs from other parties “to support repeal of this failed Act”.
However, should the matter go before a free vote in Parliament, there is no guarantee that it would result in the repeal of the Act. Conservatives Against Foxhunting, which were set up in 2010 “to represent the two thirds of Conservative supporters and the 75 percent of the general population who think hunting should remain illegal as demonstrated in an Ipsos MORI poll carried out in 2009 for The League Against Cruel Sports” boast six Parliamentary patrons, including Dominic Raab, Caroline Dinenage and David Amess.
They have at least twenty six Conservative MPs signed up as supporters, including Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown, who re-affirmed his commitment to keeping the ban in place in the run up to the general election, saying: “I have been consistently opposed to any repeal of The Hunting Act (2004), and I would like to assure everyone that this remains my position on the matter. I am a strong champion of animal rights, and I am proud of my track record standing up for animals.
“I am proud to stand up for this important issue, and to take any opportunity I can to defend the rights and welfare of animals”
But failure to repeal the ban will not go down well with Conservative supporters in the shires, who may feel betrayed by the party. The matter is often discussed on the Horse and Hound forum, where one forum user noted last week: “Unless I have missed something, there was no mention of repeal of the Hunting Act?” adding “Well that was my vote wasted, yet again…”
Other hunt enthusiasts suggested that the government was playing “a longer game” as, thanks also in part to opposition from the Scottish National Party, who oppose hunting and may also simply want to create a headache for Cameron, “the outcome cannot be guaranteed.”
Another predicted: “Once the SNP have been neutralised by the bill to only allow English MPs to have a say on English legislation and other support is gauged, a bill will be brought forward. I suspect that a lot of thought and consultation needs to be put into it so that they can try and put it in the long grass for a while as the last thing we need is it to become an issue that is brought up and changed every time there is a change of party in power.”
‘L&M’ simply replied “I admire your optimism”.