Monday, 13 July 2015
Shooting my 11 year old fox.
In 2002 I played a small part in the Liberty and Livelihood Campaign and even attended the march through London; it was the first and only time I have ever felt sufficiently angry to march along the street with a placard.
I was not particularly pro-hunting, but as a Libertarian I was pro-leaving people alone and minding my own business - a philosophy which still shapes my life and politics today. I have never hunted nor ridden with a hunt, though I did follow the New Forest Foxhounds on foot several times and had an enjoyable time. Most hunters are good people, the village greens, countryside and the sight of the hunt is truly magnificent, as is the sound of the hounds singing. I understand totally how important it was, and is, to those who participate - and the sense of anger and betrayal they must have felt at the time.
There were two other reasons I opposed the ban and was prepared to put my head above the parapet to support the hunters.
Firstly, I believed the arguments that a ban would destroy, or fundamentally damage the fabric of rural life, that hundreds of rural jobs - huntsmen, stable and kennel workers, farriers and many others whose livelihoods depended on hunting - would be lost.
Secondly, I genuinely believed, and still do, that the legislation was nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with a narrow-minded class-based attack on "Tory Toffs", or as Tony would have put it, "we are on the side of the many not the few".
If Labour (or Mike Foster) were genuinely concerned about animal welfare, there were many far more cruel and more pressing, activities which should have attracted their attention such as factory farming, puppy farms, high yield milk production, veal crating, force feeding and live animal exports. All of these involved a greater number of animals and significantly more suffering than fox hunting.
For these reasons I opposed the 2004 Hunting Act and had I been an MP at the time I would have spoken and voted against its introduction.
This week parliament will have the opportunity to vote on a small amendment to the Act. However the amendment is not as "small" as it appears. By allowing an increase (from two) in the number of hounds allowed to flush-out a fox, it will in effect provide for the return of packs of hounds and inter alia a return to hunting as it was pre-2004, as a prosecution would be impossible to bring.
Given my hostility to the introduction of the original Act many may imagine I would support such an amendment, but my position has changed.
Firstly, the majority of the emotional arguments made by the Countryside Alliance regarding the fabric of rural life, jobs, the rural economy and community cohesion have turned out thankfully to be inaccurate. Hunts still (drag) hunt, more people attend hunts and ride to hounds than did previously and there is no discernible change in the number of people employed.
Secondly, just as I believed the 2004 Bill was introduced for all the wrong reasons, I also suspect the reason given for the proposed amendment (ie, correcting bad legislation) is just as spurious. There are many pieces of bad legislation, effecting far greater numbers of people, in need of "correcting" ahead of this.
I have never been convinced by the arguments that the government should or shouldn't do something because of public opinion - thankfully we do not legislate to the tune of the mob. But things do change and society moves on. There are hardcore arguments on both sides, but for me the issue is clear. The proposed changes are nothing to do with jobs, the rural economy or the preservation of country life - if they were I would be minded to support them. The changes are a Trojan Horse to allow the return of pack-hunting of a live animal with no wider gain than the increased pleasure and enjoyment for those who follow and watch.
That is not a position I would want to defend on the doorsteps in 2020.