Nice protest, chaps. But pointless

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It's war, but not as we know it. The model isn't the bloody insurgency in Iraq but the First World War, which was probably the last recorded occasion on which a terrier man stood shoulder to shoulder with a marquess. Thousands of free-born Englishmen (© Daily Mail) and beardless boys (© Daily Telegraph) gathered in Parliament Square last week to confront an enemy who should, in terms of strict historical accuracy, have been compared with nothing less than the Hun. Instead, it reminded one of our more excitable columnists of the Red Guards, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis. I can't say I'm a fan of Tony Blair, but it does seem a tad unfair to mention his government in the same breath as Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler, just because it's finally going to outlaw hunting with hounds.

It's war, but not as we know it. The model isn't the bloody insurgency in Iraq but the First World War, which was probably the last recorded occasion on which a terrier man stood shoulder to shoulder with a marquess. Thousands of free-born Englishmen (© Daily Mail) and beardless boys (© Daily Telegraph) gathered in Parliament Square last week to confront an enemy who should, in terms of strict historical accuracy, have been compared with nothing less than the Hun. Instead, it reminded one of our more excitable columnists of the Red Guards, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis. I can't say I'm a fan of Tony Blair, but it does seem a tad unfair to mention his government in the same breath as Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler, just because it's finally going to outlaw hunting with hounds.

It's a strange and joyous experience, watching so many people in the grip of a delusion. They queued up to be interviewed, claiming to speak for the silent majority (who, according to opinion polls, are in favour of a ban) and arguing that the decisive vote against hunting (again) in the House of Commons was an affront to democracy - unlike, I suppose, the votes in the unelected House of Lords that wrecked previous attempts to enact a ban.

None of this made any sense until I realised that supporters of hunting have been on so few demonstrations that they have no rhetoric of their own and have subliminally absorbed it from marches they've seen (and doubtless condemned in robust language) on television. I wouldn't have been surprised if they had thrown themselves against the police lines chanting "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out". After all, they'd barely arrived in Parliament Square before they were complaining about police brutality (© miners' strike 1984-85).

One woman told Radio 4 that it was her first demonstration, and admitted she'd never cared passionately about anything before. I mean, who are these people? Even if she was too young to demonstrate against the Pinochet junta in Chile or apartheid in South Africa, wasn't she even a little bit concerned about Third World debt or the war in Iraq? From the day I pursued Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) across the grounds of my university campus, to the huge anti-war march in February last year, public protest has been part of my life. I don't expect to get my own way every time - just as well, you might say - but I have always understood that non-violent demonstrations play a vital role in changing a country's culture.

And that, of course, is what the hunting row is really about. It is a kind of class war, in which the values of a diverse metropolitan culture are pitted against a sclerotic social hierarchy that exposes its prejudices even as it attempts to deny them. (It is amazing, opined the former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, that people think hunting is solely the sport of the upper classes. Why, as well as the Marquess of Worcester, he had personally spied fellows with rough tongues and shaven heads among the demonstrators!) There were next to no black or Asian faces in the coaches that converged on central London on Wednesday, and the protesters were angry because they had belatedly realised that my generation - urban, egalitarian, undeferential - is in power and will no longer honour the exemption "the countryside" demands from everybody else's values.

In that sense, what we are witnessing is not so much a rural revolt as the last stand against modernity of the old ruling class and its working-class allies - who will lose their livelihoods only if their employers refuse to change to drag hunting, so let's hear no more rubbish about the threat to jobs. They are the very same people who inveigh against the nanny state and scoff at the notion that ordinary people have rights, let alone animals.

They want to be left alone, they say, to get on with their traditional way of life, which just happens to involve cruelty to foxes. In that case, why shouldn't they be excused from observing other inconvenient laws, such as the sanction against murder? Nice protest, guys, but nul points for logic or morality.

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