THE PRIME Minister's "shock announcement" about fox-hunting was a classic piece of post hoc policy-making by his press secretary, Alastair Campbell... Mr Campbell identified a fox-hunting ban as the perfect antidote to the dreaded "Labour splits" headlines which were threatening to spill over into the weekend. The first rule of killing a story is that you have to give the press a more interesting tale to tell. So the "hunting story" was quickly and firmly spun the other way... I can almost hear the scarlet tunics of England crinkling with outrage in their summer storage closets. Surely this beloved, ancient pastime is not to perish at the whim of a single, unelected, unaccountable spin doctor? Wouldn't it be too unbearably banal for this great pursuit to be cast into history simply in order to reduce the number of column inches written about John Prescott one Sunday in July?
WHY HASN'T Tony Blair promised to move against people who catch perch and mackerel for fun? Why isn't he going to ban the keeping of hamsters and gerbils, except in Government-approved conditions? Because sport fishermen and small, cross girls are much larger constituencies in this country than fox-hunters, that's why... I don't believe he cares deeply about foxes. Nor, as it happens, do I think he was bribed by the pounds 1.1m donation to Labour from animal rights groups... No, this is appeasement, a way of pleasing one radical part of Labour's coalition that was cheesed off by Blair's attack on public-sector culture and wants to bash the toffs.
FOX-HUNTING is an excuse for inadequate human beings to chase, torture and murder a wild animal and then pretend they are somehow doing it for the benefit of mother nature. The reason they do it is because they enjoy it. But if the campaign to ban fox-hunting is to begin again, then it would be wise for those who are against it to conduct their fight with a little more maturity this time. Can we please ditch the stuffed toys? Can Mike Foster, the Labour MP who has fought long and hard to ban fox- hunting, please refrain from posing outside Westminster with a cuddly toy fox? It's incredibly embarrassing, Mike. And totally unnecessary. The case against fox-hunting is overwhelming. Pretending that the average fox is really just Basil Brush without a TV programme helps nobody. Apart from sadistic bumpkins who would like to keep their bloodsports.
MR BLAIR wishes to kill off the most vital part of the surviving rural economy. He sees the countryside as a stretch of unused earth, where farmers defend their ill-gotten territories and their barbarous way of life from innocent urban visitors in their anoraks. Having successfully policed these primitive people so that their work is all but unprofitable, he proposes to police their leisure, too. Perhaps the Prime Minister knows that hunting with hounds is not the cruel pastime that its opponents describe. Perhaps he knows that hunting is a way of balancing the interests of rural people and those of their favourite pest. But he turns his back on such facts, just as he turns his back on every cry that goes up from beyond the suburbs.
TALLY HO-PELESS! That's what I thought of fox-hunters. A bunch of toffee- nosed toffs revelling in a sport more noted for cruelty and snobbery than skill and enjoyment. Yet the pageantry and tradition of the hunt appealed to me. And having lived near foxes, and seen the devastation they cause to lambs and chickens, I knew they weren't the cuddly Christmas card critters of urban mythology. So when professor of philosophy Roger Scruton offered me the chance to ride to hounds with one of Britain's 200 packs, I went along to see for myself. I joined the Vale of White Horse hunt in Wiltshire. First surprise? The people... I thought I'd be spending the day with a bunch of sadistic hooray henrys. But the men and women I meet are rational, sociable and bright... Hunting isn't for me, but I've yet to hear a valid argument for banning it... The anti arguments are more to do with slushy, misinformed sentimentality and misguided, puritanical class hatred than genuine concern for animal welfare.
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