Ban Hunting, Say MPs in Our Poll

Article excerpt

As the Commons returned this week, we asked MPs to indicate their views on Mike Foster's forthcoming anti-hunt bill. Their message is clear

If foxes could read they would be busy organising a small celebratory feast of stolen chicken, fresh off the bone. Even before intensive anti-hunt lobbying has got into full swing, a survey of MPs carried out this week by the NS suggests powerful parliamentary support for Mike Foster's Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill. Our findings point to a clear majority for the measure, which gets its second reading on 28 November.

The survey, asking whether they support Foster's bill, was sent to all MPs. More than 60 per cent replied. The balance of those who did not is unlikely to affect the vote significantly. One hundred and thirty-nine Labour MPs (who are more likely to support the bill), did not respond, along with 82 Tory MPs (more likely to oppose it) and 31 others.

There is some cross-party support for the bill (key sponsors include the Conservative Teddy Taylor and Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes), but nearly 90 per cent of its supporters are Labour. Eleven cabinet ministers and 38 other members of the government are among these. (No cabinet minister has broken rank to oppose the bill.) However, Downing Street stresses that the bill will get no layouts, saying this week: "Tony Blair is personally opposed to hunting. But if he was in Mike Foster's position, hunting would not be his top priority."

To convert expressions of support into turnout is the job of the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals (made up of the League Against Cruel Sports, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the RSPCA). Its argument is that hunting has no place in modern Britain.

"Since the Labour Party conference we have been mobilising support," explains Kate Parminter, head of press and public affairs at the RSPCA. "For the first time ever the RSPCA has written to its 695,000 supporters, encouraging them to write to their MPs. More than 30,000 letters have been sent. IFAW will also be contacting around half a million supporters."

Momentum is building. This week the group welcomed an academic report requested (though not funded) by IFAW, Is the Fox a Pest?, which downgrades the fox's responsibility for wreaking agricultural mayhem. On 10 November the campaign will hold a formal launch for Foster's bill, accompanied by an extensive advertising campaign, costing a rumoured [pounds]5 million. Parminter refuses to confirm the figure but Kevin Saunders, press officer for the League Against Creel Sports, says: "We will spend at least that between the three organisations."

The league has raised [pounds]250,000 by mortgaging its London offices and is considering mortgaging other properties.

The emphasis of the media campaign will be on mobilising public opinion in "a non-threatening way, instead of the older tactics of emotion and demonstration", Parminter explains. The focus is on a series of stories based on research and polls that support the argument that this is about building a modern Britain.

To shift the debate away from class-warrior rancour against the Barboured classes towards Britain as a nation of bunny-huggers and fox-lovers makes sense. It eschews "old Labour" politics-of-envy arguments in favour of new Labour "modernisation" territory. It also gels with public opinion: a 1995 MORI poll showed that nearly three in four people disagreed that "Fox hunting is traditional to the English way of life and should be encouraged".

DO YOU SUPPORT MIKE FOSTER'S HUNTING BILL?

                 Yes     No     Undecided

Labour           266      1         8
Conservative       6     67         3
Lib Dem           19      9         7
Other              3      1         2
Anonymous          5      4         1
TOTAL            299     82        21

The anti-hunt lobby is keen to exploit the fact that Princess Diana was anti-hunt. …