LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
So the countryside came to town - or, at least, the fox-hunters did. One senses that after the rout of the general election, Tory Britain has suddenly found itself a cause again. At the Spectator party on Thursday night, the rooms were studded with ruddy-faced, badge-wearing demonstrators in pugnacious mood. On the Conservative benches in the Lords, the defence of hunting, along with hostility to devolution and defence of ``the hereditaries'', forms the core of the anti-Blair resistance agenda.

Indeed, the fascinating possibility arises that the right wing, in opposition, will become a coalition of dispossessed protesters. Where once CND stopped the traffic, militant marquesses will be sitting cross-legged; instead of lesbians abseiling into the Lords, we'll have fox-hunters abseiling into the Commons; and rather than miners' support groups rattling plastic buckets outside Sainsbury's, stern-faced young men in tweed jackets and cavalry twill will be soliciting our money for the anti-Brussels crusade.

At one level, this is all merely amusing. The same Tory Britain which scoffed for years at political reformers who suggested that parliamentary absolutism lacked the safeguards for a properly plural and liberal society are now getting a taste of their own majoritarian medicine. Once, the views of English Thatcherism were rammed down Scottish and northern English throats; now the views of politically-correct Blairites are being force- fed to the shires.

Yet, although the postbag suggests that the vast majority of Independent readers are anti-hunting, we should note that there is a lesson here for the Government. If any vocal section of the country feels unfairly trampled on, its unease will be noted by many others.

Pluralism is a close cousin to liberalism and tolerance. The Blairites came into power promising to devolve and diffuse it, committed to freedom of information legislation, a Bill of Rights and fair play in the Commons, and open-minded about electoral reform.

It would be a tragedy if, now they're in, they simply behaved like the last lot. Even the biggest majority doesn't guarantee wisdom. Nor, when disapproving of something, should we rush to ban it. Tough-minded liberalism allows much to continue that the liberal personally abhors.

Ferociously anti-Orange and pro-Orange letters have been arriving all week. But if it is also a minority, it has been a far more dangerous one than fox-hunters or peers. David McKittrick, in a fine historical sketch in yesterday's paper, reminded us of the Order's long history of intimidation. But the same is true of the nationalists, and demonising either side is futile. (Cartoonists, of course, are allowed to demonise everybody.) Now, though, this unexpected and cheering Orange decision should shake at least some of the prejudice against them.

We know the Order was right partly because Ian Paisley immediately came out against it. The man is truly driven by a logic from centuries ago.

Some readers will know the story of Paisley in full Sabbath bellow, warning his congregation that the unrepentant faced "eternal damnation, whur thair will be rending of clothes and much gnashing of teeth".

An old and notable sinner at the back raises a shaky hand. "Please, Rev Paisley, what about those of us who don't have any teeth?"

A thoughtful silence; then Paisley leans low across the pulpit and pronounces with fearful deliberation: "Teeth ... will be provided!"

It says a lot about Paisley that no one seems sure whether this is a joke against him, or a reported example of his wit.

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