Keeping cruelty history


The impact of our polling figures is proving to be highly significant in the campaign to Keep Cruelty History. Politicians and parliamentary candidates right across the political spectrum are making it very clear to us that they oppose hunting for sport and will vote against repeal should there be a free vote on the future of the Hunting Act in the next parliament.

The message seems to have got through to some senior politicians in the Conservative Party that elevating the hunting issue up the political agenda would not be popular with the vast majority of voters. Nick Herbert, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently felt the need to make it known that the Conservative Party were looking at all the options, including the possibility of giving time to a private member’s bill.

The pro bloodsport hunters and the Countryside Alliance promptly threw a major hissy fit. Financial support would be withdrawn from the party and all those volunteers in the marginals might now stay home instead of helping out through Vote-OK, unless they could be reassured that there really was an official policy to repeal.

The Sunday Telegraph weighed in with an Editorial aimed at bolstering commitment to repeal of the Hunting Act, thereby giving yet more credibility to the significance of the second thoughts now clearly occupying the minds of the general election team in Conservative Central Office.

In the grand calculus of politics, I find that there are issues, like hunting, where public opinion is so settled in its view that it is cruel and barbaric to set dogs onto animals for sport, that no amount of campaigning by the pro bloodsports lobby can alter that simple fact. When politicians find themselves at odds with the vast majority of their electors, this is not comfortable territory for them.

Free votes on issues in Parliament are relatively unusual and tend to be held on issues where there are strongly held and diametrically opposing moral and political view points right across the political divides. Issues like the death penalty, assisted suicide, abortion and hunting fit into that category. What they all have in common is whether, when and why man has or hasn’t got the legal right to take the life of a sentient being.

The political process provides a civilised society with a way of determining where the boundaries to human behaviour should be drawn. The political process produces laws and regulations that set those boundaries. On what are called matters of individual conscience, the political tradition has been that MPs should have a free vote.

When it comes to an issue like hunting, the decisions on where the lines should be drawn sometimes get lost in the broader arguments about bloodsports. What Parliament did with the Hunting Act was draw a very clear distinction between hunting with packs of dogs for sport, and what they deemed to be legitimate pest control. They banned the cruel sports but did not ban so called pest control.

The Hunting Act did not and does not ban so called pest control. What it did ban was the practice of setting packs of dogs onto wild mammals for sport and recreation. The repeal of the Act seeks to re-legalise the cruel and barbaric practice of setting packs of dogs onto animals for sport. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the public oppose repeal.

The difficulty that the hunters have and the politicians who support them have, is that a vote for repeal is quite simply a vote for a return to the barbarism of setting dogs onto animals for sport. To put it mildly, support for barbarism is not a good vote winning strategy with the majority of voters as the opinion polls clearly show.

In an attempt to alter the basis for the debate, the pro bloosports lobby try all sorts of fallacious arguments. These range from that there are far too many foxes around through to that the countryside needs and wants us. Their other favourite line is that the Hunting Act is an illiberal law and that it doesn’t work. Their concept is that there should be a freedom to be cruel to animals for sport, namely that individuals should not be constrained by law in what they do to wild animals for their own amusement or gratification. The essence of the hunters’ campaign is that they want the freedom to be cruel.

The problem for the hunters is that a freedom to be cruel is the one thing that they can’t campaign for; it is such a patently ludicrous request that they dare not make it. Yet that is what they so desperately seek.

Interestingly, the hunters have now floated the idea that while they might bring back fox hunting for sport, they would maintain the ban on hare coursing. Hare coursing so clearly lacks any of the so-called pest control arguments they like to use with other quarry like deer and foxes, that they are already contemplating whether to accept defeat and the loss of coursing as being a price that they would be prepared to pay to bring back live quarry hunting for sport. Quite what Clarissa Dickson Wright and the coursers will have to say about that strategy has yet to be heard, but I can imagine what they will think of being the ones asked to pay the price of repeal.

The next bloodsport up for sacrifice will be deer hunting. Already down to three packs and illegal in Scotland, where there are the most deer, deer hunting with dogs for sport is clearly beyond its bin by date. If the bloodsports lobby really want to bolster their chances they will have to drop the stag hunters. Finally, the fox hunters will have to drop the terriermen over board. Their sport of fox baiting with terriers below ground is not the image that the hunters want for their supposedly cruelty free sport.

I wait with interest to see whether the leaders of the so called Countryside Alliance have the political will to drop everything else in a last ditch attempt to save fox hunting for sport. Myself, I doubt that the Alliance would be able to withstand the internal strains of such a move if it were to be made in public, but what is being said behind closed doors will be a very different thing, as the recent leaks and suggestions over private member’s bills and keeping the ban on hare coursing in place already show.

As part of their strategy to repeal the Act, the Countryside Alliance has been briefing the press that the hunting world is in a better state than it was before the ban. They have apparently polled the hunts who have responded by saying, if the press reports are to be believed, that there are more supporters than before, as many staff as before, as many hounds and horses as before and that they are doing really well. Farmers who support hunting are allegedly happy, and so all in the Countryside Alliance’s hunting garden is rosy. The only question they can’t really answer is why they need the Act to be repealed if they are all doing so well on fox free hunting?

Refer your friends to the campaign website at, and if you’re on Twitter, you can follow us at

Until next week,

Douglas Batchelor


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