A needless confrontation with a rural lobby hunting for headlines

Share
Related Topics

Members of Parliament understandably lost no time in placing the incursion into the House of Commons by pro-hunting protesters in the gravest historical and political contest

Members of Parliament understandably lost no time in placing the incursion into the House of Commons by pro-hunting protesters in the gravest historical and political contest. But it is not necessary to share the exaggerated judgement of Sir Stuart Bell - "Not since Charles I came to this House has there been such an invasion" - to regard what happened yesterday in Westminster as a pernicious flash of mob rule and an affront to our democracy.

This was the first time in living memory that anyone had penetrated the floor of the House. The safety of our elected representatives was threatened. A debate was suspended; a vote placed in jeopardy. Armed guards were positioned around the Chamber. When was the last time we witnessed anything similar in Western Europe? During the attempted coup in Spain more than 20 years ago, perhaps.

Yesterday's invasion was not of this seriousness. The culprits were summarily ejected; the debate resumed and the vote was taken. The ban on hunting was passed by a big majority. To this extent, the disruption failed. The invaders did not change the course of history, nor did they subvert democracy.

But this was not their prime purpose. Their purpose, as became evident early in the day, was disruption for its own sake. A sufficient minority of the demonstrators in Parliament Square were so hell-bent on violence as to make violence inevitable. This was the last stand of the militant pro-hunting lobby against a law they detest.

That the purpose of the protest was essentially limited to nuisance, however, does not make it innocent. This was the third time in six months that the security of Parliament has been breached. First Greenpeace scaled the tower of Big Ben. Then a militant campaigner for fathers' rights dropped purple flour on the Prime Minister from the almost glassed-in public gallery. Now the hunters. London is supposed to be in a state of heightened vigilance against terrorism. Whatever additional security measures have been taken, they are clearly not working. There must be some way of keeping MPs safe - not just from terrorists but from headline-seeking hooligans - that falls short of armed guards in the Chamber.

But blame does not attach to the protesters alone. There is something tragic in the fact that the most urgent, and the most tempestuous, piece of legislation on Parliament's return should not be about judicial reform, changes in the health service or even the mounting violence in Iraq and the future of our troops there, but about fox hunting.

How this subject has managed to arouse such excitement among MPs normally noted only for indifference to the affairs of the countryside and to animal rights is one of the curiosities of our time. It may not be a pursuit that is easy to defend. But it is not, according to opinion polls, a question that the majority of the population regards as particularly pressing. Nor is it one of the most urgent animal welfare issues. Even a delayed ban is an illiberal solution to an irrelevant problem.

So why allow a minority activity to become a totemic cause of confrontation between town and country? Why make it into a Bill that dominates the agenda and becomes the one litmus test of power between the Prime Minister and his backbenchers? It would be cynical to suggest that Labour MPs prefer debating hunting to debating Iraq - still more cynical, perhaps, to suggest that this preference suits the Prime Minister quite well. But the regular return of the hunting Bill at key junctures in the parliamentary timetable permits just such a conclusion.

A stronger prime minister, one not hobbled by the Iraq débâcle, might have buried this Bill long ago. A wiser one would never have allowed his party near it. Now we have a single sectional issue conjuring up the spectre of anarchy on the streets of Westminster. The tactics of the militant hunting lobby are utterly contemptible. But so is political weakness that cuts a fanatical minority so much slack.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Controller

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is a busy and varied role w...

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes  

Women-only carriages would be an insult to both sexes

Katie Grant
 

Cyclists v the rest of the world – can we please call a truce?

Philip Hoare
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style