Herbertgate

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

As a Chief Executive I like to keep a eye on what the opposition are up to. Their recent actions have been particularly instructive.

The Nick Herbert saga is a case in point. On the one hand he takes money from supporters in the pro-bloodsports lobby and with the other hand appears to offer a change of party policy from what he is reported to have said the week before.

Last week we were told that the Conservative Party is considering how to handle any possible repeal of the Act and whether or not time should be given to a Private Members Bill, and whether it should leave the ban on hare coursing in place. This week the story changed to an assurance that there had been no change and there would be a ‘government bill in government time’.

Then, gently floating through the ether, came a message for the pro-hunting faithful from Conservative Chairman Eric Pickles. He was reported as having given assurances to the supporters of Vote-OK, that the Conservatives would indeed do their best to give parliament a chance to repeal the Act. Interestingly the assurance was rapidly deleted from the bulletin boards on which it had appeared. Now you see and hear the reassurance, now you don’t.

And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the hare coursers are being frozen out of the hopes and aspirations for repeal. We hear that the proposed hunt Regulatory Authority will be asked to leave the hare coursers out of ‘nice’ hunting by making it clear that organised competitions like the Waterloo Cup are considered cruel and must not be held. That of course will leave the police and farmers powerless to deal with all the trespassers coursing on their land.

Even deeper in the bloodsports underworld violence and vandalism are rearing their ugly heads. Lush cosmetic shops have suddenly become a target for vandals who daub pro-bloodsports messages on their property. Shop staff have been threatened with violence. The bloodsports lobby contains some people who just do not recognise the rule of law, and the management of the hunts seem prepared to turn a blind eye to such thuggery. Even worse, some hunt masters seem to revel in it.

One monitor reported to me that her colleague had had lost her camera from her car and had her tyres slashed. The very next week the master said to her, “new tyres and new camera I see”, making it very clear that he knew exactly what had gone on. He could only have got that knowledge from someone who either committed the office or at least knew what had been done and by whom!

There is a loss of moral perspective among the passionate pro-bloodsports supporters that is deeply worrying. Not only do they see no wrong in being violent to animals for sport, they also fail to draw the line at violence to the person and to property as well.

Hunting animals with dogs for sport is corrupting the moral sensibilities of those who engage in it. They get very uncomfortable when we say that, but nonetheless, the violence, thuggery and abuse associated with hunting live animals for sport is cause for serious concern. It is naïve in the extreme for the hunts to believe that when they employ, contract, or allow the thugs to tag along for the days hunting, that the thugs will restrict their abuse to wild animals and that they will obey the law.

What is particularly worrying about the pro-bloodsports lobby is the hold that they seem to have over some politicians. Despite popular opinion being resolutely against the cruel sports of hunting and coursing, some politicians appear determined to spend yet more time in parliament trying to turn the clock back to legitimising cruelty to wild animals for sport. In a one person, one vote democracy, the support for repeal is demonstrably not on the basis of public opinion. Day by day more and more evidence appears to support the belief that the political support for repeal may have been bought with donations to politicians from the pro bloodsports lobby.

In democracies from Afghanistan to the UK, the votes are supposed to be free and fair. If votes to repeal the Hunting Act are being bought for cash then that is a scandal and an abuse of our political process. For this reason I have written to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner raising the issue of the donations to Nick Herbert MP which appear to have occasioned a change of policy.

There is something really frightening about the way in which repeal is now being promoted. The hunters accept that they have lost the public argument and have now switched to making it very clear that they feel that they have the power to do what they want, even if the vast majority of the public do not agree with them. They claim that the Hunting Act was passed by politicians prejudiced against them, and this supposedly makes it acceptable for them overturn an Act which made it a crime to set dogs onto animals for sport.

The bit that the hunters and the politicians who currently support them in wanting to repeal the Act don’t get, is that making it a crime to abuse and be cruel to animals is not unreasonable or prejudiced, it is the morally and ethically respectable opinion of the majority.

It is quite frankly amazing that in a General Election being held five years after parliament made hunting a crime, the hunting issue is once more back on the political agenda, especially given the other pressing issues of the day.

The late Tony Banks always said that hunting was a totemic issue. At the base of the hunting debate is the very simple issue of whether or not it is reasonable for someone to be cruel to an animal for their own entertainment or for the entertainment of others? The issue for all of us is that simple. Cruelty to animals for sport is and should be a crime. Let’s work together to Keep Cruelty History and help us make sure that voters know which candidates will vote for cruelty and which will vote against it.

Your vote is both secret and free. While the pro hunt thugs and bullies may seek to dominate the countryside and intimidate and harass those who oppose them, and the pro bloodsports political lobby can throw their money around, you can use your secret ballot to keep cruelty a crime. Cruelty for sport is a crime; let’s keep it that way.

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