Furious at the introduction of the hunting ban, hunt supporters in their thousands are joining a nationwide campaign to unseat those MPs who backed the legislation.
Already, 220 hunts have been mobilised in a three-month plan of attack to target 120 “hostile” MPs in marginal constituencies. Directing the energy from this minority into effective tactical activity in the run-up to the election are the dynamic Charles Mann and his wife, Chipps, both long-standing pro-hunt campaigners. The pair, together with seasoned lobbyist Jeremy Sweeney, have set up an office called Vote-OK.
Mann has recently left the Countryside Alliance (CA), where he ran the Action Office since 1997: the CA cannot become involved in pre-election activity because of legislation about electoral campaigning.
Simon Hart, CA chief executive, says: “We would encourage every supporter of freedom and tolerance to engage in the political process in this way. Alun Michael, rural affairs minister, Peter Hain, Leader of the Commons, and other anti-hunting MPs have challenged the rural community to make their views heard at the ballot box.
“Every individual must take responsibility for ensuring that the candidate who best represents their views and stands most chance of ousting an anti MP has as much support as possible at the general election.”
“We’ve almost got single-party, single-chamber democracy, which leads to what’s just happened with the Hunting Act,” says Charles Mann. “Minorities by definition can’t change governments. But what we can do is help to produce a stronger opposition, and if the CA can also demonstrate that the welfare of quarry species has deteriorated — which will take time — then, come the following election or the next opportunity to change the legislation, we’ll be in a stronger position. But to have an impact, we have to be focused. For the next three months, we must really concentrate on this.”
Vote-OK has identified around 120 marginal constituencies — a majority of around 12% or less — with an incumbent who has a proven track record of voting for a ban. Using the Manns’ nationwide contacts — gained through volunteer involvement in the first Countryside Rally and subsequent marches — Vote-OK has appointed a director for each constituency to work with a candidate sympathetic to hunting and target manpower where it’s needed.
Jeremy Sweeney says: “We are drawing manpower to where it’s needed: it’s about enabling people — whether they hunt or not — who feel that what’s happened is wrong, to make a difference, tactically and in a smart way.”
Volunteers from the hunting community are emphatically not asked to talk about hunting; in fact, they have not been asked to talk at all. Instead, they are doing legwork: dropping leaflets through letterboxes, putting up posters and providing fleets of cars and drivers to take voters — the old, carless or infirm — to polling stations. This frees up valuable time for core activists to do “personal” campaigning such as house-to-house canvassing.
Jeremy Sweeney adds: “The English are remarkably reluctant to get involved — it’s not our thing. But if they are involved, then we want to make damn sure they’re used intelligently.
“This election will be the first litmus test of the strength of feeling. If Charles Mann is asked afterwards how many people hunting got out on the ground to campaign and he says 50, then that’s it. But if we had 15,000, that is quite extraordinary. To get British people out on any kind of scale is quite a thing — and the media and politicians know this.
“If people have the experience of being used effectively, where we can point to results and say: ‘You made a difference’; then, at the next election, they’ll come out again. People realise they can make a difference, and I wouldn’t underestimate that.”