COUNTRYSIDE Minister Alun Michael, who forced the anti-hunting bill through the House of Commons, hinted this morning that the Government might be seeking a compromise on a total ban.
Interviewed on the Radio Four Today programme, he suggested that the House of Lords, which has to consider the bill before returning it to the Commons, might consider making amendments that the lower house could accept.
When asked bluntly if he was seeking a compromise, he declined a direct answer but pointed out that the Government had in the past suggested that some hunts could continue under licence.
This was overwhelmingly rejected by Labour MPs, who are demanding an immediate ban. But with pro-hunting demonstrators gathering outside the Labour party conference in Brighton today, there are signs that Tony Blair is becoming increasingly nervous about the effects of mass civil disobedience on a looming general election.
Labour have some 50 to 70 marginal seats in rural or semi-rural communities, where feeling is running high over what is widely seen as Left Wing townies dictating to country people. If the party were to lose all those, it would make an enormous dent in their majority.