On 10 July, exponents of the sport will descend on Parliament, baying for the blood of Michael Foster and any other member who would spoil their fun: the unspeakable in pursuit of the unspeakable, as it were. Never mind that, what with the Ministry of Defence (the MoD, for goodness' sake, a department dedicated to sophisticated means of killing people) joining the National Trust in banning the practice on its land, hunting was most likely going the way of cock-fighting anyway: it's the legislation that has them up in arms. The streets of Whitehall will echo with chants: "Two, Four, Six, Eight, who will we annihilate?", "Hands off our brushes!". There will be nothing covert about this march: it will be a full-on clash of Pinks versus Pinkos.
I can understand their annoyance. I hunted as a child, and it was incredibly good fun, exciting and dangerous in a way that few modern activities are. Anybody who has twiddled their thumbs through a country winter can attest that good fun is hard to come by, unless you enjoy stuffing haynets, and the thought of those empty months must frighten the living daylights out of many people. Then again, hard as I try I am also absolutely unable to dig up a moral justification for the sport. Hunting is, indeed, the most efficient way of culling foxes, and there is no doubt that foxes need to be culled, but using this argument as a way of justifying a hundred people thundering in pursuit of an intelligent and frightened mammal is disingenuous, to say the least. Still, I'm all for marching. The right to demonstrate is a right we should all be uniting behind.
Which is why it comes as a bit of a surprise that the hunters should be using it now. If you drew a Venn diagram, you could bet your bottom dollar that there won't be more than a couple of people partaking in this protest who also marched against, for instance, the Criminal Justice Bill. The Tories would very likely have lost even more seats on International Labour Day if it hadn't been for hunting. I know at least five people whose vote was cast on this issue alone. Never mind our bubble-and-squeak economy, our restricted rights, the fall-apart of the NHS, the ever-full dole queues and the ever-worsening situation of the poor, an approach to Europe that amounted to little more than the repeated statement that Johnny Foreigner wanted to steal our cash and ban our sausages and a drop in literacy standards only matched by the exodus of the Romans (who were, after all, Johnny Foreigners in their own right): a party that could ban fox-hunting was one that could not be trusted. An argument roughly equivalent to voting with the Spice Girls.
I love it, though: this issue is a perfect illustration that everyone in this country is completely barmy. Take this soundbite from a spokesman for the British Field Sports Society just before the election: "This issue could be Labour's poll tax". Ah, minority spokesmen: that wonderful world they inhabit in which their issues are the issues closest to the hearts of the rest of the population. The pro-hunting lobby, it seems, fondly imagine themselves shoulder to shoulder, protecting the freedom of the populace, the dubious pleasure of blocking up an animal's bolt-hole being equally important to the rest of us as the concept of taxing a millionaire on an equal footing with his sweat-shop employees. Still, the former mining communities will be most heartened to see such concern about jobs all of a sudden.
10 July will, in its way, be a red letter day, one that might even make a footnote in history as the day the shires found themselves the voice of opposition. It's going to be such fun sitting back and watching the coverage on the telly, twisting my moustaches and pontificating about anarchists and troublemakers. The cloth-capped have spent the last two decades pointing out that the world has changed, that no one can expect a job for life, that the unwashed, body-pierced, layabout representatives of protest should go and look for work and stop interfering in the democratic running of the country; the wellie, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. And another thing: this march is happening on a Thursday. What's the matter with these people? Haven't they got jobs to go to?.
John Lyttle is away