Posts tagged Countryside Alliance

The “period of silence” comes to an end

The period of silence from the Countryside Alliance has finally come to an end.

This morning, they tweeted that they had voted (quite how an organisation votes is unclear, but we won’t go into that) and that was their first tweet since 22nd April.

Clearly the most amusing aspect of the silence from the Alliance has been their attempts to insist that hunting isn’t an election issue – and yet they have spent the entire time since the Hunting Act was passed talking about the need to elect a government which will repeal it.

But it’s also clear that there isn’t even the support for their campaign from hunters themselves. Remember that the Alliance claim that twenty-seven squillion people took part in the Countryside March, but only 32,000 people have signed up to their repeal website. And there’s hardly a tsunami of support flocking to that website – it has attracted little over 2,000 new supporters in the last three months (rising from 30,100 on 19th February to 32,165 today).

With their period of silence over, we look forward to the resumption of their “campaign” with baited breath.

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A changing debate

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

This election campaign has produced some seismic changes in the wider politics of the hunting issue. Speakers from the three main political parties have said that revisiting hunting is not a priority issue for a new Parliament despite all the efforts of the Countryside Alliance and Vote-OK to put the hunting issue on the political agenda.

Perhaps more interestingly still, speakers from all the major parties have during the campaign made it clear, albeit in different words, that they accept the general principle that when man engages with an animal he owes it a duty of care.

The fact that the pro-hunt lobby are going to have to accept that if the target animal suffers as a result of their activities, they will not be able to lawfully carry them out in future, is a massive shift in the political reality. Even where there is talk of repeal there is also acceptance that animal welfare must be safeguarded. Quite how this is to be achieved is less clear, but the principle and the need is an accepted political reality.

The pro-hunt lobby has found that its own issues are massively unpopular with voters of all political persuasions and have been doing their best to keep the hunting issue out of the headlines and the political debates and hustings. While some candidates have clearly said in their meetings with bloodsports enthusiasts that they will use any free vote to vote for repeal, for the most part they are not saying that in their election literature or voluntarily on the hustings, unless asked a direct question on the subject.

Where once the hunters’ and shooters’ help and support was seen by candidates as conferring electoral advantage on the candidates that they supported, now reportedly many politicians want to make it clear that they do not support the bloodsports lobby. By publicly raising the issues with candidates, voters are making sure the issues are aired in the public debates and that voters know where candidates stand on the issue.

For years the pro-bloodsports lobby have funded a massive campaign to protect and preserve hunting and shooting for sport. Millions of pounds have been spent on campaigning, on court cases and on organising opposition to the Hunting Act and any other legislation which curtails bloodsports. Tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds have been given by bloodsports supporters to politicians who are known to be personally committed to repeal of the Hunting Act and other legislation which restricts bloodsports. Whilst this is allowed, if declared, it is a matter of concern.

Politicians of all persuasions can see a lost argument – like hunting and shooting for sport – and usually do not want to be publicly associated with a position which the majority of their own voters are not happy with. Of course individual politicians will and can take a personal stand on a moral and ethical issue on principle, and not because it is popular with their electors, but that is generally the parliamentary exception rather than the rule.

The problem that the Hunting Act really faces is not just the test of public opinion, it is the test of whether or not it does or can achieves the objectives that those who voted for it set out to achieve?

Those who oppose the Act and seek to repeal it claim that “it does not work”, that it “cannot work” and in some cases that “it is being widely disregarded” and that it therefore brings the law into disrepute.

One of the things that the passage of the Hunting Act has achieved is a public recognition that setting dogs onto animals for sport is wrong and that it is a crime. Even the most ardent bloodsports lobbyists are no longer trying to argue for the preservation of a bloodsport. Their arguments are now couched in terms of pest control allegedly being necessary and or hunting with dogs allegedly being the least worst animal welfare option. It is worth remembering that the bloodsports lobby used to lobby for their sport, now it seems that even they accept that their activities are no longer acceptable if their purpose is for sport and recreation. That change in itself is a massive move forwards. Score one to the Act: it has changed what people think about setting dogs onto animals for sport.

The next and obvious thing that the Act has achieved is that it has caused those hunts and hunters who obey the law to change what they do. For the most part that means and has meant a change to trail hunting. Those who want to break the law now know that every time they go out with that intent, they run the risk of prosecution. Even the most ardent law breaker does not feel comfortable breaking the law in full and public view. Where hunts are obeying the law, fewer wild mammals are chased and killed for sport. That too is progress brought about by the passage of the Act.

Then there are the claims that the Act cannot work, to which the short answer is over 130 convictions. The Act does work, and in fact works better than a lot of other legislation in the wildlife protection field. And yes there are problems, not the least of which is the relatively restricted access to land to monitor the activity of hunts and of those who plan to break the law.

It is true that the majority of convictions are of hare coursers and or huntsmen or other hunt staff and associates, rather than the masters of the hunts. But that is not surprising in that it is the hunt servants who are the active hunters, at their master’s behest. But nonetheless it is quite clear that if the evidence is compelling, the criminals are convicted under the Act. That too is progress brought by the passage of the Act.

Then there is the charge that the law is being widely disregarded. That is clearly true but disregard for a law that offers society protection from cruelty to animals for sport, is not a reasonable justification for repealing that law. No one is seriously arguing that the laws with regard to the welfare of farmed and domestic animals should be repealed because some people are cruel to animals. Wild animals should also be protected by law from cruelty.

The real issue that has to be faced is why do some people choose to disregard the law and further what should society do about people who regularly and repeatedly engage in criminal activity? The answer is not to make the currently illegal legal again by repealing the Hunting Act, it is to enforce the law without fear or favour, and to bring cases to court where there is evidence of wrong doing. Only that way can society ensure that no animal should suffer for sport. Please do all you can to help.

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The Fox Tour hits the spot

The hunters’ deep annoyance at the Fox Tour is tangible.

It was through tightly gritted teeth that Simon Hart smiled at the camera as we attempted to talk to him about hunting as he arrived at an RSPB event at Trinity College in Carmarthen. In fact, so annoyed was he that he’d been confronted like that, that he left the event later that evening through a back entrance, sending a decoy car out front to try and fool us (they did; we got as far as the car park exit before realising what they were up to). But then Hart’s flunkies at the Countryside Alliance tweeted on Friday that we had been “following the wrong car round [sic] Carmarthen last night”. The spin must be making them dizzy.

In Thursday’s film, from the Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire constituency in Wales, we included a clip in which a member of the Fox Tour team gives his mobile number in a message to a candidate we were trying to speak to. This was calculated, to see if the hunters would start to call – and that’s exactly what they did. We’ve got them all recorded and we’ll video blog them later this week.

Not all the pro-hunters are disliking the films, though. On Saturday, the Conservative candidate for Corby – whom we tried to track down on Monday – tweeted that “our entire office has watched it. It’s fantastic” before going on to say that it was the “funniest video ever”.

The films have had thousands of views on our website and blog, and we have a further eight constituencies to visit. Friday’s film, from Stroud in Gloucestershire, will be online tomorrow morning. And it’s clear that the Fox Tour is having a real impact and generating the kind of coverage of the hunting issue that we need.

It’s certainly not the ‘period of silence’ the blood junkies claimed to be hoping for!

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Question time

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive

There is something rather odd about the General Election campaign that is quite hard to put a finger on. Somehow this campaign feels like none of its predecessors. First of all it has been so long coming that its arrival seems almost anti-climatic. Politicians of all parties have been engaged in a sort of phoney election for months, with points argued and scored all over the political piste, as if the election had been called months ago. So what makes the actual campaign period of the next three weeks until polling day any different to the weeks and months that have preceded it?

I suppose one of the big differences is not so much in the rhetoric or the mood music but in the fact that the manifestos have all been published. Party positions on policies are now reasonably clear and the political debate has more substance to it.

As far as the League is concerned, the big issue is the future of the Hunting Act. The Liberal Democrat leader has said that he would vote to keep the Act, but individual MPs will be free to vote according to their consciences. The Conservative Party have made it clear that there will be a government bill in government time which will offer MPs a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act. The Labour Party have made it clear that they support the Act. The Welsh and Scottish Nationalists have not said where they stand on the hunting issue and in Northern Ireland there isn’t a Hunting Act. UKIP think it should be taken to a referendum and the BNP appear to be against the Act whilst the Green Party supports it. Hunting with dogs for sport is one of the few issues on which almost everyone and most parties have an opinion.

By making it a manifesto commitment to have a free vote on a government bill in government time, the Conservative Party have made their commitment very clear. The Conservative Party leader and a lot of other very senior conservatives have made their personal positions, of being in support of repeal, very clear as well. A somewhat smaller number of senior Conservative politicians have made it equally clear that they will use any free vote to oppose repeal of the Act. The majority of Conservative Party candidates have yet to make clear their personal position on repeal and how they will use their free vote.

It was against this background that two weekends ago the west country edition of the BBC’s Politics Show tried to run a debate between candidates on the hunting issue. Quite amazingly not one Conservative Party candidate from the region was prepared to appear on the programme, and some even told the programme they specifically didn’t want to talk about hunting. They apparently told the BBC that they felt that hunting was not a political issue and they would therefore not appear. To add to the general amazement the Countryside Alliance also refused to put up anyone, also reportedly claiming that hunting was not a political issue.

You couldn’t invent a credible story about the Alliance being media shy, but nonetheless it was true. The show went out with the notable absence of invitees who would not attend the debate. It must not be forgotten that the Countryside Alliance have spent the last five years campaigning for the hunting debate to be brought back to parliament and for the Act to be repealed. Yet there they were refusing to debate the hunting issue on TV in a general election campaign. It was an incredible own goal and one repeated by Simon Hart, chief executive of the Alliance and currently the Conservative candidate in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire. When our Fox Tour confronted him this week, he said hunting was “absolutely not” an important issue.

The Conservative Party manifesto says, ”The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free cote, with a Government Bill in Government time”. Clearly the claims that hunting was not an election issue have been made nonsense by the manifesto commitment.

As a charity we cannot and will not advise any elector how they should vote. But – and it is a very big but – I think that the League and every elector has the right to ask candidates of all parties how they plan to vote if there is to be a free vote on a bill in government time to repeal the Hunting Act. It is important to open a debate on the issue of the Hunting Act. If the majority of the public are opposed to repeal surely with discussion we can persuade at least some of the pro-repeal candidates to rethink their position. At the very least we must try.

The only way to be sure of where any candidate stands on the hunting issue is to ask them. It is extremely worrying that it would appear that some candidates standing at the General Election are being told to say as little as possible about their stance on hunting and not to engage in public debate on the hunting issue. That does not sound like a free vote or an open and democratic process to me. If candidates can be ordered not to appear and not to speak in a debate on hunting with dogs for sport, the real question must be, how free are the candidates to speak and vote as they wish on the hunting issue?

There is something deeply worrying about those who seek to repeal the Hunting Act that dare not speak about it in public or on the campaign trail. If hunting is a free vote and individual conscience issue, then it should also be a public issue, and not be subject to a campaign of gathering support for repeal by stealth and without knowing and informed public consent to that repeal.

One of the blessings of a democracy is that people are free to speak their minds and to vote as they see fit. If there is to be a free vote on the future of the Hunting Act, amongst those elected to parliament, then every elector has the right to know where their candidate stands on issues of concern to them. Voters may or may not agree with candidates responses, they may or may not vote for those candidates for a whole host of reasons, but they do have a right to an answer to the questions: will you vote to repeal the Hunting Act? Will you vote to bring back fox hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and stag hunting?

We will do our best to keep you informed of what we know of candidates views via the www.keepcrueltyhistory.com website but there is no substitute for you asking the question yourself of as many candidates as you can. If there is a deliberate plan afoot to say as little as possible about repeal of the Hunting Act, then that is all the more reason why you and we and you should do all we can to air the issue of possible repeal and to point out the consequences of any free vote for repeal, to as many people as possible. Please use your email, letters and word of mouth to ask questions.

Our job is to make sure voters and candidates do know what will happen if the Act is repealed. At the end of the day freedom and democracy depend on freedom of information for the electors. Please do all you can to help.

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Hunting “certainly not” an important issue … says Chief Exec of Countryside Alliance

We always knew that talking to Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance and Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire would be a tall order – but we managed it.

Some people assume that because of the strong hunting heritage in the region, the majority of people there are pro-hunting. This just isn’t the case. We visited various towns and villages including Narberth, Carmarthen, Tenby and Whitland, and didn’t find anyone who supported repeal of the Hunting Act.

Simon Hart is the thought to be the only candidate in the constituency who supports repeal of the Act and despite his best efforts to avoid us, we did manage to track him down at an event hosted by the RSPB at Trinity College, Carmarthen. We tried to catch him afterwards, too, but he made a fast exit via a back door.

Interestingly, when we experienced difficulty in finding Simon, we called his employers – the Countryside Alliance – to see if they could help us track him down. They couldn’t. Instead all they managed was some glib remark about us “not finding many candidates” over the first three days of the Fox Tour. The truth, of course, is that it’s only the pro-hunting candidates who’ve been avoiding us and the glare of publicity we bring with us.

Today the Fox Tour heads back into England. We’ll reveal the constituency around lunchtime.

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The hunters’ period of silence

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

There is something rather odd about the General Election campaign that is quite hard to put a finger on. Somehow this campaign feels like none of its predecessors. First of all it has been so long coming that its arrival seems almost anti-climatic. Politicians of all parties have been engaged in a sort of phoney election for months, with points argued and scored all over the political piste, as if the election had been called months ago. So what makes the actual campaign period of the next three weeks until polling day any different to the weeks and months that have preceded it?

I suppose one of the big differences is not so much in the rhetoric or the mood music but in the fact that the manifestos have all been published. Party positions on policies are now reasonably clear and the political debate has more substance to it.

As far as the League is concerned, the big issue is the future of the Hunting Act. The Liberal Democrat leader has said that he would vote to keep the Act, but individual MPs will be free to vote according to their consciences. The Conservative Party have made it clear that there will be a government bill in government time which will offer MPs a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act 2004. The Labour Party have made it clear that they support the Act. The Welsh and Scottish Nationalists have not said where they stand on the hunting issue and in Northern Ireland there isn’t a Hunting Act. UKIP and the BNP appear to be against the Act and the Green Party support it. Hunting with dogs for sport is one of the few issues on which almost everyone and most parties have an opinion.

By making it a manifesto commitment to have a free vote on a government bill in government time, the Conservative Party have made their commitment very clear. The Conservative Party leader and a lot of other very senior conservatives have made their personal positions, of being in support of repeal, very clear as well. A somewhat smaller number of senior Conservative politicians have made it equally clear that they will use any free vote to oppose repeal of the Act. The majority of Conservative Party candidates have yet to make clear their personal position on repeal and how they will use their free vote.

It was against this background that last weekend the West Country edition of the BBC’s Politics Show tried to run a debate between candidates on the hunting issue. Quite amazingly not one Conservative Party candidate from the region was prepared to appear on the program, and some even told the programme they specifically didn’t want to talk about hunting. They apparently told the BBC that they felt that hunting was not a political issue and they would therefore not appear. To add to the general amazement the Countryside Alliance also refused to put up anyone, also reportedly claiming that hunting was not a political issue.

You couldn’t invent a credible story about the Alliance being media shy, but nonetheless it was true. The show went out with the notable absence of invitees who would not attend the debate. It must not be forgotten that the Countryside Alliance have spent the last five years campaigning for the hunting ban debate to be brought back to parliament and for the Act to be repealed. Yet there they were, last weekend refusing to debate the hunting issue on TV in a general election campaign. It was an incredible own goal.

The Conservative Party manifesto has been published and says, ”The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free cote, with a Government Bill in Government time”. Clearly last weeks claims that hunting was not an election issue have been made nonsense by the manifesto commitment.

As a charity we cannot and will not advise any elector how they should vote. But – and it is a very big but – I think that we as the League and every elector has the right to ask candidates of all parties how they plan to vote if there is to be a free vote on a bill in government time to repeal the Hunting Act. It is important to open a debate on the issue of the Hunting Act. If the majority of the public are opposed to repeal surely with discussion we can persuade at least some of the pro-repeal candidates to rethink their position. At the very least we must try.

There is widespread cross party recognition and acceptance that decisions about hunting with dogs are and should be matters of individual moral conscience, and that is why they are “free votes”. In every party there are candidates who support repeal and there are candidates who oppose repeal. Mr Cameron acknowledged this in his recent Radio 5 interview on the subject.

The only way to be sure of where any candidate stands on the hunting issue is to ask them. It is extremely worrying that it would appear that some candidates standing at the General Election are being told to say as little as possible about their stance on hunting and not to engage in public debate on the hunting issue. That does not sound like a free vote or an open and democratic process to me. If candidates can be ordered not to appear and not to speak in a debate on hunting with dogs for sport, the real question must be, how free are the candidates to speak and vote as they wish on the hunting issue?

There is something deeply worrying about those who seek to repeal the Hunting Act that dare not speak about it in public or on the campaign trail. If hunting is a free vote and individual conscience issue, then it should also be a public issue, and not be subject to a campaign of gathering support for repeal by stealth and without knowing and informed public consent to that repeal.

One of the blessings of a democracy is that people are free to speak their minds and to vote as they see fit. If there is to be a free vote on the future of the Hunting Act, amongst those elected to parliament, then every elector has the right to know where their candidate stands on issues of concern to them. Voters may or may not agree with candidates responses, they may or may not vote for those candidates for a whole host of reasons, but they do have a right to an answer to the questions: will you vote to repeal the Hunting Act? Will you vote to bring back fox hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and stag hunting? Yes or no, that is the question.

We will do our best to keep you informed of what we know of candidates views via the www.keepcrueltyhistory.com website but there is no substitute for you asking the question yourself of as many candidates as you can. If there is a deliberate plan afoot to say as little as possible about repeal of the Hunting Act, then that is all the more reason why you and we and you should do all we can to air the issue of possible repeal and to point out the consequences of any free vote for repeal, to as many people as possible. Please use your email, letters and word of mouth to ask questions.

Our job is to make sure voters and candidates do know what will happen if the Act is repealed. At the end of the day freedom and democracy depend on freedom of information for the electors. Please do all you can to help.

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BBC perspective on the hunters’ Ratner moment

We blogged yesterday on the own goal scored by the Countryside Alliance on the Politics Show South West at the weekend.

Their PR disaster continues with a devastating blog post by Martyn Oates, presenter of the programme.

The irony is that the “period of silence” they expected from us in the run up to the election appears to be the strategy their hopeless PR team are employing themselves. Hilarious!

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