STREET TALK : HUNTING

The fortnightly column that puts words in your mouth
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The Independent Culture
What, no stalking horse? The Tories suffer their worst ever election defeat and still no sign of that legendary hunter from the shires. There's John Major, not only winged but staring down the barrel of defeat, a sitting duck if ever there was one, and not one of his loyal colleagues seems willing to slip from their hides to run him to ground or hound him to death.

Perhaps they've become inured to the smell of blood, or have followed so many red herrings and false trails that they've lost the scent altogether, although they'd only need to sniff the wind if they wanted to give chase. Or could it be that they haven't the heart to deliver the coup de grce to a lame duck, although it's not like a Tory to miss out on a good turkey shoot. Why all this beating about the bush? It's open season and yet, somehow, no one wants to rise to the bait, no one warms to the thrill of the chase or sets off in hot pursuit of the ultimate trophy.

You'd expect some backwoods backbencher, with the full backing of the Berkshire hunt, to have begun tracking this prey by now, if only as a decoy to run under the guns for some poacher turned gamekeeper, thus killing two birds with one stone. It's said that the Prime Minister is a sly fox but unless he's become a protected species it's hard to see why, when they have him in their sights, no one gives him both barrels. After all, in politics it's perfectly acceptable to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so why not stop grousing and go in for the kill?

But no, they clip his wings, yet won't ensnare him, as though they're afraid of falling into a trap where the hunter gets captured by the game or that, at the last moment, the wily Major might outfox the entire pack and go to ground.

Can it really be that the Tory party, that champion of blood sports, has given in to the sabs and called off the dogs just when they were ready to rip their quarry to shreds? Does Tony Blair, more lurcher than bloodhound, have it in the bag?

Louis Palabrota

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