9th July 2017
It’s official – the Government is not planning any attempts to bring back fox, hare, deer and mink hunting with hounds for at least two years. This assurance was given by Dr Thérèse Coffey MP when she answered Parlaimentary Written Question 943. Coffey wrote, “The governments manifesto includes a free vote on the Hunting Act (2004), but we are not planning to bring forward a free vote during this session.”
These are indeed strange political times. A couple of months ago it was all very different. So what happened?
Rewind to 2014. Discreet but determined efforts to weaken the Hunting Act by Tory ministers were afoot. They were scuppered by Liberals within the Coalition Government. In fact it was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who we have chiefly to thank for objecting, standing his ground and refusing to budge.
Just over a year later, in July 2015, pro hunt supporters within the newly elected majority Conservative government proposed amendments to the Hunting Act which would have rendered it unenforceable. After a frantic seven days of campaigning, the proposed amendments were withdrawn. Tactically for the bloodsports lobby it was best to avoid losing the vote because a second chance would be highly unlikely.
Then in April this year Prime Minister Theresa May called a surprise snap General Election. Her lead was unassailable, according to the polls. “The biggest Election win for decades” was widely predicted. And Brexit wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds….
The Daily Mirror published news of a leaked email from Conservative Peer, Lord Mancroft on May 8th. Mancroft, who is also Chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, urged Hunt Masters across the land to mobilise their supporters and campaign for pro-hunt Conservatives in marginal seats. His reckoning was that an increased House of Commons majority of 50 would be enough to overturn the Hunting Act.
To be fair, the leaked email only told us what we already knew. Ever since the Hunting Act was enshrined as law in February 2005, bloodsports organisations have been working hard to get sympathetic MPs elected. Politically speaking, it’s all a numbers game.
Vote OK is one of these pro bloodsports lobby groups. Despite an innocuous sounding name and equally nondescript website, Vote OK specifically targets manpower and resources into marginals and by-elections where they think they can get a pro-hunt candidate elected. They channel the energies of local Hunt Supporters Club members and offer them up to be foot soldiers. With a promise by the candidate to accede to their single-issue fanaticism, the foot soldiers are willing.
“This is the chance we have been waiting for,” Lord Mancroft wrote in his leaked email.
When Theresa May took questions from factory workers in Leeds on May 9th it was unusual. Up to then the questions to her on the campaign trail had been screened in advance and her answers prepared. In Leeds she was speaking ‘on the hoof’ as it were. When a man asked if there was truth in rumours that the Conservatives would make bloodsports legal again she replied, “As it happens I have always been in favour of foxhunting,” and reinforced her commitment to facilitate a free vote on repeal by MPs in Parliament.
What else could the Prime Minister say? In polling, her huge lead was, arguably, wobbling slightly. On the streets in marginal and targeted constiuencies she needed to fuel the resolve of bloodsports supporting foot soldiers who were on a promise. In Leeds on May 9th she was doing what she does worst – engaging in unscripted dialogue with the general public.
Theresa May’s comment made headlines and played an important part in the 2017 General Election result. In the end, the predicted landslide didn’t happen. The Conservative majority was actually reduced and the Prime Minister stooped to buying agreements with hitherto unlikely political bedfellows to enable her Government to retain a Parliamentary majority. In a delayed Queens Speech it was announced that Parliamentary session would last for two years instead of the usual one. Hence, the Hunting Act has grace until at least 2019.
Between now and then the bloodsports community will be plotting and planning. The struggle to reinforce or repeal the Hunting Act continues even behind closed doors. Dangers are not helped by Brexit. It could be that European Union Habitat Directives and other environmental laws are replaced by legislation which will include sneaky opportunities for hunting with hounds to return. We need to be alert to anything which repeals the Hunting Act by the back-door.
This will entail reading between the lines, interpreting carefully the words and phrases used in all post-Brexit Bills which have anything to do with farming, the countryside or wildlife. Any talk of licensing agreements, codes of conduct or self regulation should be treated as dodgy because they echo noises made for many years now by the pro hunting Middle Way Group (another innocuous sounding name, note).
Equally, beware talk of “wildlife management”, of hounds hunting quarry in “their wild and natural state”, plus claims that foxhunting et al is humane with only the weak and injured getting caught. As a starter for ten, ask yourself which predator blocks holes to force a healthy fox to run from hounds above ground when it’s natural defence strategy is to bolt down a hole? Don’t get us started on the use of mobile phone technology, motorised transport, radio collars and other tools utilised in the hunting field, or selective breeding of hounds which are produced and tailored to fit exactly the requirements of their ‘country’ and human masters.
And remember – recently elected MPs who are not familiar with the lies, propaganda and peer pressure of pro hunt types are susceptible to their spin and schmoosing and ‘gentle persuasion’. From the ridiculous claim that “if the fox didn’t enjoy it he wouldn’t join in” to pseudo-scientific arguments that chasing a wild mammal to exhaustion with a pack of dogs is humane so-called ‘wildlife management’. This nonsense all has to be countered. If it’s been said before, it needs to be said again. The other side has two years to prepare and rest assured they are on it. So are we.
© Joe Hashman