It appears that the pro-hunters were given a lifeline last week with the announcement of an inquiry, headed by Lord Burns, into the effects of a hunting ban upon rural life. It has promised to be neutral, although it is hard to imagine that any foxes will be consulted. "Hello Mr Fox, my name is Janice, I am doing a survey on hunting. You may be aware that it is currently the custom to chase you across the countryside for two hours before you are ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Do you think ending this practice would: a) improve your quality of life; b) deny you the fun of the chase; or c) make no difference? According to the Countryside Alliance most foxes would answer "b".
Poor Lord Burns will have to talk to all those dreadful people who appear on television to protest that they are not just a bunch of toffs (which they do in an accent so posh you think you are listening to a comic parody). "We care about life in the countryside," they say. Well, until Sunday evening, anyway, when they load up the Range Rover and head back to Kensington. One of them recently claimed that there were plenty of commoners on their marches, which was a bit of a giveaway because the word "commoner" is only ever used by the sort of rich country folk whose names, like their shotguns, are double-barrelled. This is partly why fox-hunting is so deeply unpopular. If there's one thing the English hate more than people being cruel to animals, it's snobby rich people being cruel to animals. I was on Andy Hamilton's team on The News Quiz last month and he said he was against drag-hunting because he thought packs of hounds chasing men dressed as ladies would be a retrograde step. This splendid joke was delayed half way through by the spontaneous applause and cheers. Suddenly ordinary Radio 4 listeners who had come along to see a comedy show were behaving like a fervent mob at a political rally. Such is the strength of feeling against fox-hunting across the country. They hate the people who are violent to animals so much they think they should be strung up - probably after having been tortured, just for good measure.
So why is the Government apparently dragging its feet on this issue? One moment it appears that the fox-hunters face imminent abolition; then the Government won't make time for a Private Member's Bill; then the PM gets them in his sights again; then there is going to be an inquiry. It's almost as if they are deliberately stringing it out for as long as possible. Don't the fox-hunters recognise these tactics? Can't they see that Labour is enjoying the thrill of the chase; that it is having political sport with country sports? The RSPCA would like hunting killed off quickly and humanely, but that takes all the fun out of it. The pro-hunters are going to be hounded all the way up to the next election. "Tally Ho!" shouts Tony Blair as he sets off in his red jacket and riding hat, galloping after the fox-hunters, followed by packs of voters all baying for blood.
Fox-hunting is that most precious of political issues: banning it unites the Labour Party; is popular in the country; will not be expensive to enact and forces the Leader of the Opposition into an embarrassing and untenable position. There can be few sights that gladden hearts in Downing Street as much as that of William Hague wearing his "look-at-me-I'm-from- Yorkshire" tweed cap, leading a march for the rights of posh people to be cruel. Public opinion overwhelmingly demands that fox-hunting be abolished immediately. And that is why it won't be.
So we can expect more marches to come. More fox-hunters coming through our cities terrifying all the poor foxes who moved into town to get away from them. Obviously it's frustrating that hunting still goes on, but there is something you can do in the meantime. The next time you learn of a pro-hunting march through your city, just you grab one of the protesters, drag him down an alleyway, and nick his watch and his wallet. And, when he protests, just say to him: "You country folk - you just don't understand the ways of the city, do you?"