For weeks, Theresa May has been avoiding controversial topics, focusing almost obsessively on the need to carry out ‘the will of the people’ via Brexit. But now, she has rather casually announced her support for fox hunting. Which is almost certainly not the ‘will of the people’.
Responding to a question, she said:
As it happens, personally, I’ve always been in favour of fox hunting and we maintain our commitment – we had a commitment previously – as a Conservative Party to allow a free vote and that would allow Parliament to take a decision on this.
Generally only dictators would dream of pushing through a policy against that level of public opposition so we hope our government will respect the will of the people.
Rallying the troops
It’s more likely that May is trying to galvanise the small but highly organised band of pro-hunting Tory shock troops, Vote-OK. David Cameron was quick to credit this group, chaired by his father-in-law Viscount Astor, for helping him win the 2015 general election. The day before May’s comments, The Daily Mirror published details of a rallying email sent to hunt enthusiasts. In it, the chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, Lord Mancroft, urges hunt masters to work with Vote-OK in a coordinated drive to secure marginal seats for pro-hunting Conservative candidates. He warns that May must commit to supporting a vote on the issue but says he has received assurances that such support would be forthcoming. May’s latest pronouncements confirm this.
The hunting ban’s murky past
Ironically for legislation with such widespread popular support, the hunting ban has its roots in shady backroom deals. Tony Blair’s initial enthusiasm for the ban may well have been stoked by a £1m donation. At the time, it was the largest single gift the Labour Party had ever received. And it came from Brian Davies, founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Davies made substantial donations to the three main political parties and enjoyed a high level of access to senior politicians.
However, although Blair’s weight pushed the ban towards inevitable adoption, he had a personal change of heart. In his memoir A Journey, Blair made the extraordinary admission that banning fox hunting was the biggest regret of his entire premiership. (Yes. Not rushing into the invasion of Iraq. Banning fox hunting.) On one of his holidays in Tuscany, Blair got chatting to a woman who was mistress of a hunt. She took the opportunity to wax lyrical about the importance of killing foxes to the social fabric of the countryside. By the time she finished, Blair was convinced that fox hunting was a good thing and set about trying to gut the legislation to such an extent that the carnage could continue “provided certain steps were taken to avoid cruelty when the fox was killed”. The result was what Blair called a “masterly British compromise”, but what The Telegraph says “brings the rule of law into disrepute”. Perhaps most worryingly, Blair claimed to have ordered police to steer clear of enforcing the law.
The ban needs strengthening, not scrapping
While Sir Roger Gale, president of Conservative Animal Welfare, may be right to say that “it’d be folly to waste further time on the issue” given other pressing matters, the inadequacy of current legislation is often used as the main argument for scrapping it. But that would, of course, go against the wishes of 84% of the population (including 82% in rural areas – there’s no particular town/country divide). For a would-be prime minister who keeps insisting that 52% on a very complex issue equals “the will of the people”, that seems like political stupidity.
Fox hunting continues, despite the ban, or perhaps because of the way Blair engineered it. Hunts sometimes behave as if they’ve nothing to fear from the authorities. On the rare occasion hunters fall foul of the law, they get away with minor penalties. Records from the Hunt Saboteurs Association, seen by The Canary, show dozens of incidents of alleged illegal animal killing during the 2016-17 season. And hunt monitors fear the problem is far greater than they are physically able to verify. The status quo is a long way from perfect. But May, Vote-OK, and all supporters of hunting want to drag us backwards by legitimising a barbarous activity.
As campaigner Peter Stefanovic points out, May’s support for hunting also raises doubts about her character and her judgement. Do we really want a leader who supports killing for pleasure?
– Sign the petition against scrapping the ban.
– Register to vote in the 8 June general election.
– Discuss the key policy issues with family members, colleagues and neighbours. And organise! Join (and participate in the activities of) a union, an activist group, and/or a political party.
– Read more from The Canary on the 2017 general election.
– Ask the candidates in your constituency not to support a repeal of the Hunting Act. Especially if you’re aware of Vote-OK being active in your area.
– Support Keep The Hunting Ban on Facebook.
– Support the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
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