Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

The United Nations declared last week that, for the first time in human history, more people in the world live in the town than in the country. If true, this feels momentous, though it is not, obviously, sudden. The imagination of mankind has been shaped by rural life more than by anything else, but this has been fading for 200 years in the West, and now is fading almost everywhere.

What are its effects? A crisis for the great religions, whose language of elemental truth assumes an understanding of what it is to be a good shepherd, to sow and reap, to have murrains of cattle and crops that fail. But also, one would hope, a deeper acceptance that the life of the city is what we all have to work on if society is to prosper. In a barn on the farm where I was brought up, a wooden yoke hung on a peg. I used to imagine the very last evening the labourer left it there after carrying the milk pails to the farmhouse, and feel sad.

But then I never had to bear the yoke myself.

It is not an accident that words like 'civilisation' and 'politics' refer to life in cities. In cities, we have grown freer: we need to love them better.

It is three years this week that the hunting ban came 'into force', though that phrase, I am glad to say, has proved highly inappropriate.

The Conservative party, however, seems to be avoiding requests to reiterate its commitment to allow a free vote, in government time, in the first session of Parliament, on repeal. The Tories are casting about for a way of changing the law through secondary legislation: they could, for example, alter the definition of 'exempt hunting' to allow a far larger number of hounds than the current maximum -- though even this is permitted only for flushing onto guns -- of two. One can see why the leadership worries about getting snarled up in this matter, but the route of secondary legislation would send the party on what in hunting is called a 'heel line' -- chasing a scent backwards. It would plunge Parliament into interminable technical arguments and it would be essentially dishonest, because it would leave the ban in force while trying to neuter it, thus annoying everyone. The existing commitment is simpler and easier to justify than any other.

The Conservatives have taken their stand on the issue of freedom and the need for laws to be practical. If they make the promise of immediate repeal in the next manifesto, as they did in the last, they will be clear and consistent, they will impel the Lords, under the Salisbury Convention which defers to manifestoes, to assist, and they will maintain the loyalty of the hunting people who, in most of their target seats, do the crucial campaigning work. Kill the act as hounds kill a fox -- quickly, cleanly: don't let it linger on, shot, limping, septic.

On Tuesday night, Daniel Hannan MEP was expelled from the federalist European People's Party -- which includes the Tories as uneasy bedfellows -- accused of wanting a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and of calling the Speaker of the European Parliament a Nazi. What Hannan actually said was that the Speaker was 'a decent and democratic man', but that his decision to ignore the Parliament's own rules to prevent further protest against the failure to hold a referendum called to mind the Enabling Act in the Reichstag in 1933. Funnily enough, before Hannan had delivered his wicked remark, two group leaders made speeches comparing the pro-referendum protestors' interventions to the tactics of Adolf Hitler and/ or Nazi members of the Reichstag. …

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