Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

There is no shortage of people who say that they are willing to break the hunting ban. Particularly the young, who have no responsibilities, and the old, who feel they have nothing to lose, declare themselves ready for prison, even for suicide. But supporters of rural liberty should beware of the great curse of English romantics - the love of the futile gesture. And those hunting people on the other side of the argument who fear that they can now be arrested for absolutely anything should also calm down. It is time to study the 'best practice' (good New Labour term, that) of non-violent conflict. Extraordinary that English people now need to learn lessons from Solidarity in Poland, the anti-apartheid struggle and the Civil Rights movement in the United States just to go on doing what they have always done, but there it is.

First, work out the nature of the injustice. This docs not consist in the desire of Parliament to regulate hunting, but in the ban, because it is oppressive and unsupported by evidence. Lord Burns collected evidence for the government. He established that hunting was no crueller than any other form of killing foxes, and therefore made no case for a ban. This did not deflect the abolitionists. Almost all refused invitations from hunts to come and see what they did: they positively proclaimed their ignorance, and thus that they were making law on the basis of prejudice. They then abused the purpose of the Parliament Act by forcing through something that was not part of the government's programme. So the law is unjust in manner and matter. It therefore helps the rule of law to defeat it.

Next, the policy. It is the repeal of the hunting ban and its replacement either with the status quo, or with a fair system of licensing.

Then, the strategy. This is vital. Nonviolent action requires just as much discipline and purpose as violent action, perhaps more: 'It works,' say Peter Ackermann and Jack Duvall, two of the authorities on the subject, 'by identifying an opponent's vulnerabilities and taking away his ability to maintain control.' Rulers who oppress us can only do so by what has been called 'voluntary servitude', the passivity of the oppressed towards their own oppression. As Gandhi put it, 'Non-violent refusal to co-operate with injustice is the way to defeat it.' This government has already exposed its vulnerabilities over the Hunting Bill: Mr Blair says that the matter will he settled in the courts and has nothing to do with him. David Blunkett admits that it will be very hard to collect proper evidence of law-breaking. They are still scrabbling around for a longer delay. These men, and many others in the government (only a quarter of the Cabinet voted for the Bill), have a bad conscience because they know the Act offends against the chief reason for voting New Labour - that confrontation and class war are things of the past. That conscience must be scratched mercilessly, and exploited electorally. As a small contribution, I propose, whenever I refer to the Prime Minister in these pages, to refer to 'Tony Blair (who has introduced the most divisive law of modern times)'.

The vulnerabilities of the police and the courts are even greater. Senior police officers have no stomach for what is coming. …

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