Why MPs Shouldn't Care about Hunting. (Leader)

New Statesman (1996), July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Why MPs Shouldn't Care about Hunting. (Leader)


Tally ho! Let another season of sport commence! Let Lords and Commons clash in a trial of strength, let the courts then balance the animal rights of foxes against the human rights of their pursuers, let us see our democratic polity and our ancient legal system in their full deliberative glory. The great political merit of fox-hunting as an issue is that it can be reduced to old-fashioned simplicities. Town against country, the workers against the toffs, libertarians against authoritarians, reactionaries against progressives, the cruel against the compassionate, the will of the people against the House of Lords. Our elected representatives may be baffled by weapons of mass destruction, but on hunting with dogs, they know where they stand.

Most of the arguments deployed are preposterous. Hunting is not essential to the rural economy: the official inquiry under Lord Burns found that a ban would affect at most 8,000 jobs and that their loss would be offset within a few years - bad luck for the individuals involved, but hardly on a par with the destruction of mining communities and northern industrial towns. Nor is hunting important to the conservation of the English landscape: the mist will still roll up on an autumn morning without red-coated buffoons riding through it. The English landscape has already been done over by agribusiness, as the Burns report also pointed out, while rude capitalism dictates the closure of shops and pubs, which play a far more important role than the hunt in village social life. As for the libertarian claim that the law shouldn't interfere with other people's harmless pleasures, it is nonsensical: hunting is clearly harmful to the fox.

The arguments on the other side are no more compelling. Hunting is not exclusively upper class, any more than is tennis; both sports are run by posh folk, but that is not a reason for banning either. The abolition of hunting will strike no blow in the class war. The horrors inflicted on the fox are insignificant compared with those inflicted on most of the animals we eat. There is no comparison with bear-baiting or cock-fighting (town sports banned nearly two centuries ago by country people), since there is no call in nature or farming for bears to be baited or for cocks to fight as there is for fox numbers to be kept down. No doubt it is annoying for some people to have hunters trampling through their gardens, but not as annoying as it is for others to have airports or motorways built on their doorsteps.

None of this concerns the protagonists on either side. Old Labour stalwarts and Tory romantics have had a hard time this past quarter-century. A world in which a Labour government falls in love with the private sector, denounces comprehensives as "bog standard" and takes Britain into three wars troubles those who like their politics hot, spicy and simple. Here is an issue on which they will not be triangulated; Tony Blair was wrong even to attempt it with his compromise bill, and the National Audit Office could reasonably investigate the consequent waste of public money.

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