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Hunting: Labour left versus Government right
Friday, 06 December, 2002

The publication of this week's hunting bill merely added to the confusion surrounding this emotive subject, writes country columnist John Sheard. But was that the plan?

IT has been apparent for months now that on many issues, the Government's right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Important announcements are made by one minister one day and contradicted by another 24 hours later.

Licensing fox hunts?
Hiatus seems to be the normal state of affairs in Westminster and Whitehall and I suppose most people put it down to simple incompetence. However, there are cynics like me who are beginning to wonder if this may, in fact, be part of a carefully orchestrated plan to obscure issues in a deliberate fog of obfuscation so thick that the general public completely loses interest.

If this is so, there has been no better example of the publication of the new hunting bill this week. Superficially, it does seem to be an attempt to find a middle way between the mainly town-based antis and the mainly country- based supporters.

The plan is to ban stag-hunting and hare coursing but to allow certain fox hunts to remain by licensing them if they meet a tough set of standards like, for instance, proving that theirs is the best method of keeping fox numbers in check.

This came out in the same week that the Government also announced grants of £450 million to keep rural post offices in business - whilst at the same time planning to pay the vast majority of state benefits like pensions directly into bank accounts, thus robbing post offices of a vast number of regular customers.

In other words, what the right hand giveth, the left hand shall taketh away.

On the surface, these two measures are supposed to show that the Government has a deep interest in rural affairs. Politically, this may be true: Labour has got used to huge parliamentary majorities and could not have them without the 80 or so rural or semi-rural constituencies it now holds.

But whether or not it is genuinely interested in the views of country folk is entirely another matter. The progress of the hunting bill will be an absorbing test of that interest.

For a start, it alienated both sides from the minute it was announced. The Countryside Alliance was in uproar and, within 24 hours, more than 100 Labour MPs had announced that they would vote against the bill unless it banned fox hunting totally, irrevocably, and forever.

This is exactly what anyone with the slightest nouse would have expected. And I am quite sure that the spin-doctors and political analysts knew it would happen too. They might not be very good at running the country but they are slick and shrewd when it comes to political manipulation.

So here's the latest John Sheard conspiracy theory: the Prime Minister actually expects his back-benchers to force through an absolute ban on all hunting with dogs - which is what he himself admits to supporting personally -but will be able to face rural voters, hold his hands in the air, and say: "Sorry - but I did my best."

Now I have said many times that my views of fox hunting are strictly neutral. I have an intense dislike for horses and little sympathy with the fox, which is one of a very few predators which will kill for fun.

But to have decent country folk made into criminals as a sop to the left-wingers of the Labour Party is a cynical perversion of all that was once good in British politics. RIP, Individual Rights GB.

Your views:

  • Keep fox hunting alive!! its the best feeling ever to be getting up early in the morning, grooming your horse ready for all the excitement at the meet, hunting all day, galloping over fields and then coming back and having dinner and then going to the pub with the rest of the hunt! its TRADITION! keep it alive!

    Leah Harris - Llanarth

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