Eat meat, save foxes and shoot down the Tories

I know foxes are ruthless hunters that will bite the head off your pet rabbit if they get the chance
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The Independent Culture
I HAVE always been utterly opposed to blood sports and have actively supported the various campaigns over recent decades to ban them entirely. However, it would be foolish not to pay attention to the strength of feeling that has been revealed by the Countryside Alliance campaign. Even if, as some have suggested, the bulk of the protesters have been organised and transported to the demonstrations by the Tory party machine, it is still the case that there is a real depth of feeling on this issue amongst a significant minority of the community.

As well as passion, we have seen the incisive writing of leading intellectuals such as Roger Scruton, who revealed the depth of his own personal feelings as an active hunt member. There can be no doubt that he is speaking truthfully when he tells us that the excitement and savagery of the hunt gives him a bridge by which he can reach back to the past and reconnect with the raw emotions that typified humanity before the rise of civilisation and imposition of rules and laws upon "the noble savage".

For the Labour Party in parliament to blindly steam ahead, ignoring the views of our fellow citizens, and coercively impose the tyranny of the majority on a minority, would be unwise. A sensible government is one that is prepared to reach out the hand of compromise to aggrieved citizens, however small they may be in number.

I, therefore, believe it is time for the Government to propose a sensible compromise that takes account of the views of those such as Mr Scruton who wish to hold on to our distant and brutal heritage.

While we should ban the hunting of wild animals with dogs, the Government should be prepared to create a small number of wilderness zones. There, Roger Scruton and his fellow thinkers would be free to hunt each other. Of course, we would have to suspend the operation of the law in these wilderness zones, but it would still be necessary to regulate this new system by allowing only the use of knives, clubs, bows and arrows in the hunt Anyone caught hunting with guns - unsporting - would be promptly disqualified.

Some on the right would complain that the regulation of the wilderness zones would mean increased bureaucracy and could become a drain on the public purse, but I have a simple remedy to deal with these problems - the erection of large viewing platforms around the wilderness zones where polenta-eating Islingtonites and other townies would pay substantial sums of money for the simple, primitive pleasure of being able to watch Roger Scruton locked in a sweaty life-and-death struggle with William Hague. How's that for a public-private finance initiative? It's bound to be a major new revenue stream for the Treasury.

So as not to see a growth of the bloated state sector, the viewing platforms would, of course, operate strictly under Public Private Partnership from the start, with the (vegetarian) food concession available to the highest bidder. Surely these would be ideal locations for a whole range of new Conran-style gastrodomes. For the Prime Minister and his guests, a special state viewing-platform with catering by his favourite restaurant Granita would provide another welcome stop on the circuit of visiting figures of international standing.

Sadly, tomorrow's Eddisbury by-election may make these plans superfluous. Two recent opinion polls have shown a dead heat or narrow Labour lead in this constituency which Labour narrowly failed to win in the last general election. Given that it is only last month since Labour went down to its most humiliating election defeat since the 1920s, to be within sight of advancing on our general election high point is a recovery superseded only by that of Lazarus.

It is not surprising that William Hague was yesterday rushing around the constituency with all the energy and ingenuity of a fox on the wrong end of Roger Scruton's bugle. He is desperately trying to swing the by- election debate away from the issue of hunting and back on to the unworthy mix of anti-European propaganda and xenophobia that served him so well at last month's Euro elections, when the Tories were able to establish a clear lead over the Labour Party for the first time since 1992.

If the Labour Party does pull off what would be the most stunning by- election gain by a governing party since the Second World War, it would knock the heart out of the pro-hunting lobby more decisively than anything the animal rights campaigners could hope to muster. When Tony Blair relaunched Labour's commitment to ban hunting on the BBC's Question Time recently, I am sure it was an off-the-cuff remark that reflected his genuine beliefs. If Labour wins the by-election tomorrow, however, history will be re-written to show that this was one of the great political strokes of all time, which in the space of two short weeks allowed Labour to regain the political initiative after a pretty dreadful Euro-election result.

There would also be one welcome advantage to the whole nation in that the pro-hunting brigade will be revealed to be a completely irrelevant minority and all the cynical Tory MPs and wannabe MPs will drop their support for the campaign with the same joyful self-interested ruthlessness with which they ditched Mrs Thatcher when she no longer seemed to be an electoral winner. For this, if for no other reason, the good voters of Eddisbury have a chance to improve the quality of life for all of us, let alone that of the poor bloody fox.

Finally, let me make clear that nothing I have written above should lead anyone to believe that I am some woolly-minded sentimentalist about wildlife. I know that foxes are ruthless hunters that will bite the head off your pet rabbit if they get the chance. I also know that, indeed, only a few weeks ago a fox got into my garden and bit the head off Gertie, my pet tortoise.

The grim reality is that 999 wild animals out of a 1,000 end up as food for something else higher up the food chain. This is one of the reasons why, despite having many vegetarian friends, I still eat fish and poultry and I must confess I occasionally weaken and have a bacon sandwich. But cosmetic testing on animals and the obscenities of factory farming should be banned, and so should the barbaric hunting of terrorised and exhausted foxes, hares and deer.