Ten-thousand hunt supporters gathered in Brighton today, as the Labour Party conference was in full swing, to protest against the government’s plan to ban hunting with dogs in Britain.
Just as Tony Blair prepared to address the conference, huntsman, greyhound trainers, terriermen and their working dogs gathered down the road to express their fury at the Government for putting hunting back at the top of the political agenda.
A bunch of bunny-clad beauties led the protest towards the conference centre, leaving many of the terriermen momentarily undecided as to where they should focus their attention, but there was little question as to the focus of the anger of the crowd.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, in his speech to delegates on Sunday, dismissed rural protesters as “the braying mob”, saying that Parliament Square two weeks ago had been filled with “all those contorted faces.
“The same bunch who opposed the Right to Roam and now threaten to break the law”.
However, Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, was quick to criticise Prescott’s outright prejudice, saying to the crowd gathered on the Brighton seafront this morning that “it is an absolute disgrace that a man in his position is prepared to insult a section of society, that were it any other minority, he would have been forced to resign. The man is a bigot!”
Other prominent figures in the Labour Party to have come under attack in recent weeks are Alun Michael – who has been run to ground by the rural community on several occasions – and Peter Hain, who was jostled at his home on Saturday. But the backbenchers, who have long fought for a hunting ban on the grounds of animal welfare are, it seems, putting themselves back in the firing line.
“Dennis Skinner came up to our stand and said ‘the hunting Bill has nothing to do with animal cruelty. This is revenge for the miners'”, explained Jim Barrington, of the Middle Way Group.
The protest remained peaceful on the whole, although tempers began to fray later in the day, and eggs flew towards the conference centre, with one well-aimed missiled landing squarely on the second floor balcony, from where several well-heeled delegates were enjoying the spectacle of the demonstration.
But arrests were reportedly limited to the anti-hunting lobby, which, it seems, had infiltrated the protest with the sole purpose of creating a ruck. Little can they have realised just what they were facing, and as some were led away by the men in fluorescent yellow, the remaining elements folded up their handmade banners and drifted anonymously into the crowd.
“However disgracefully the Government treats rural people, and however provocative the behaviour of the John Prescott and other Ministers there can be no excuse for this sort of behaviour,” said Simon Hart.