Andrew Sallis: Double standards and party politics [H&H VIP]

  • Autumn hunting is the busiest time of year for masters, staff, hounds and horses, who surface for a gasp of air just before the opening meet. I have, however, found time recently to watch a re-run of a fascinating BBC documentary from the Human Planet series.

    It featured a mounted fox hunt with golden eagles in the most stunning countryside. It was not a scene from a hunt in the English Elysian Fields, employing the most obscure of the exemptions available within the Hunting Act 2004 — flushing to a bird of prey — but a young Kazakh, hunting in the jaw-dropping Altai mountains ranges, where they split to reveal a bleak plateau on the border of Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

    The fox hardly posed a threat to the local ecology or farming practices, however its pursuit and inevitable demise had several purposes: to provide fur for clothing (although other materials are readily available) and the rite of passage for a Kazakh hunter.

    The young hunter clearly took pride in his bird and enjoyed the battle of nature as he galloped down the perilous mountain-side and across the boulder strewn moonscape, holloaing to encourage his eagle.

    The fox’s death was hardly glorious. In the end it had to be finished off by the handler and was therefore far longer than any swift demise by a foxhound.

    A few years ago there was much mention of hunting being protected by the European Court of Human Rights as a traditional, national activity — similar to the Spanish defence of bull-fighting.

    This defence came to nought, but it did highlight an important principle.

    It would be naïve to suggest that the moral consensus doesn’t shift slightly between the Altai Mountains and SW1A, but the viewers are not invited to pass judgement on the young Kazakh.

    Swap him for a young huntsman in the Home Counties and the chorus of disapproval would be deafening, albeit from a vocal, yet powerful minority.

    Surely the rights of farmers and country people to manage and enjoy their environment responsibly and without ill-considered, prejudiced interference, should be respected.

    Edging closer to repeal

    Defections, exposures (literally), resignations and rumours — who would want to be a party leader?

    Fortunately, the Prime Minister did have one victory to celebrate recently, even if he did have to share it with Messers Miliband, Clegg and Brown.

    To promote a positive “No” campaign north of the border was never going to be easy — at times David Cameron has a tendency to apply a liberal dash of complacency to important matters — but the Tory Party’s post-Scottish Referendum strategy is arguably more coherent than any of the previous month’s stumbling.

    In wrong-footing a slightly embarrassed Ed Miliband into refusing to accept “English Votes for English Laws” — and thereby protecting Labour’s unrepresentative power in Westminster over English legislation — Mr Cameron wins hands down.

    In a deft manoeuvre, the Prime Minister should also snuff out the fire in Nigel Farage’s nationalist rhetoric with these reform proposals.

    We are being encouraged to respect those tempted to cast their vote for the intellectually adolescent, policy-light UKIP (oops). The party’s new recruits will add to their weaponry and may even destabilise their leader, but they have yet to offer the countryside a decent set of policies.

    The package of reforms to the Union outlined by Cameron will make repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 (England and Wales) increasingly possible without the army of Scottish Labour MPs instinctively voting against hunting.

    A handful of “experts” and prophets of doom will always find a good reason why this can’t happen, but it is surely much closer.

    The Prime Minister has set William Hague the task of recasting the Union by the General Election in May, a task which, despite his considerable talent, he is duty bound to fail. However its primary proposals should also provide a brilliant blue-print for resolving the scandalous voting imbalance in Westminster.

    In passing, this will hopefully sound the death knell on the Hunting Act 2004 for England and Wales.

    This comment was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 9 October, 2014