Hilary Benn: The public supports the ban. So what are the Tories playing at?

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Today, as families gather to continue to celebrate Christmas, we should also celebrate the fifth Boxing Day without the sight of foxes being torn to pieces in our countryside.

In years to come I think we will look back with horror at a time when hunting wild animals with dogs was viewed as respectable entertainment. Like badger-baiting, cock-fighting and fox tossing (I kid you not), ripping animals to shreds with dogs will become a relic of history.

The ban introduced by Parliament is making a real difference; since it came into force, dozens of prosecutions have been brought under the Act, and the supposed dire effects on rural communities have not come to pass.

But the Hunting Act is under threat if the Tories have their way. They have made it clear that they want to get rid of it as soon as they can. This isn't a class issue, nor is it about the countryside against our towns. Lots of people in rural areas oppose fox hunting and it isn't about stopping people riding their horses together, either. It is about what we think a decent, civilised society should stand for. For the Tory party's ironically named Animal Welfare spokesman, that means bringing back hunting with dogs. And he has said they will do it soon after being elected if they were to win power next year.

Quite why this is something that would be a priority for a Tory government, instead of the economy or tackling other concerns, is hard to explain to the public, and they've failed to do so.

Most striking, however, is the overwhelming public support for the ban. According to a recent Ipsos Mori poll, three-quarters of the population do not want hunting with dogs to be made legal again. The same poll showed that 72 per cent of the rural population want to keep the ban in place. And yet 84 per cent of Tory candidates want to repeal the ban, according to recent research. That's pretty out of touch with the public mood.

These are the reasons why we have today launched a campaign to back the ban. At www.backtheban.com I have asked people to sign up and demonstrate their support. Together we can show what we think is acceptable and what isn't. I want every candidate at the next general election to make clear what their personal view is. At a time when politicians need to be more transparent, all of us have a responsibility to tell our constituents what we think about this.

The Tories claim that they have changed. Their stance on fox hunting makes it absolutely clear that they haven't. They know the public don't agree with them on this, but they are determined to go ahead if they are given the chance. That's why we need to continue to campaign to stop this "sport" from returning to our land.

So, it is really important that the public send a clear message this Boxing Day. Like most people I think that the barbaric act of letting dogs tear foxes to pieces with their teeth shouldn't return to our countryside. I hope everyone who agrees will go to www.backtheban.com and show their continuing support for an end to this cruelty.

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