Hunting supporters have seized on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s admission that banning hunting was “one of the domestic legislative measures I most regret”.

They say the comment, in his autobiography A Journey, published last week, is confirmation that the hunting ban should be repealed.

The Countryside Alliance (CA), meanwhile, claims Blair is “rewriting history”.

Blair writes: “What I didn’t understand — but boy, I understood it later — was that [hunting] is a rather large part of our rural present… I made a fatal mistake by not shutting the issue down at the outset.”

He continues: “The more I learned, the more uneasy I became. This wasn’t a clique of weirdo in-breds delighting in cruelty, but a tradition… integral to a way of life.”

The most startling fact is that he proclaims the Hunting Act is “a masterly British compromise — it was banned in such a way that, provided certain steps are taken to avoid cruelty when the fox is killed, it isn’t banned”.

Blair also implies that he told the Home Office not to waste time trying to secure prosecutions under the act.

But CA spokesman Tim Bonner said: “A real compromise was on the table then — licensing — and still is now, through the proposed Hunting Regulatory Authority. By bringing back the Bill and engaging the Parliament Act, Blair sabotaged a carefully crafted position which should have allowed the government and Parliament to agree a workable licensing regime.”

Blair states in his book that he met the “mistress of a hunt near Oxford” on holiday, who “took me calmly and persuasively through what they did… and did it with an effect that completely convinced me”.

But it is not clear who this hunting heroine was.

Chrissie Down, joint-master of the North Cotswold from 1996-2001, met Blair in 1999.

She told H&H: “I don’t want to claim credit for anything. I had been told not to bring the subject up, so I didn’t really bend his ear. Our conversation was mainly about female masters.”

And in September 2004, Blair spoke to Polly Portwin, joint-master of the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, at Chequers.

Polly said: “Emma Pearce, who was a master of the Vale of Aylesbury at the time, and I were invited in during a demonstration.

“He said what he thought we wanted to hear. I don’t think anything I said changed his views.
“He’s now using hunting to distract from Iraq .”

But one hunt is happy to take credit for educating Blair — the South Durham, based in his former Sedgefield constituency.

Gary Watchman, joint-master of the South Durham, said: “Blair drank in the same pub as our former master Mark Shotton. Mark had a private meeting with him and asked him why he was going to ban hunting. Blair said: ‘I wish I’d never mentioned it.’ He asked Mark to tell him how hunting works, and he said: ‘I’ll do what I can.’

“We firmly believe this is why the ban is unworkable. The South Durham is why we still have any form of hunting today.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (9 September, ’10)