Andrew Sallis: Don’t take us for granted [H&H VIP]

  • The hunting world has been awash with lively discourse on political strategy for several months.

    The Prime Minister recently announced to the House that a minor amendment to the Hunting Act 2004 (England and Wales) made by Statutory Instrument (SI) would not be brought forward.

    The SI would have greatly aided hill farmers, in particular, to tackle fox predation on their livestock.

    He seemed disappointed, though probably not as much as the rural leaders craving a signal of positive intent towards repeal for their field army, eager to work hard at the next election.

    Accounts vary as to how the SI mets its sticky end – Coalition disagreements, stalling mandarins, panicking Tory MPs in marginal seats to be won, have all appeared on the blame radar.

    Some MPs, nervous of negative press, were opposed or at best ambivalent for reasons of their own perceived electoral expediency. Plus ça change.

    The hunting community at large feels disappointed and let down by an administration that claims, with good reason, to be the most sympathetic in modern times but hardly acts as such.

    If the SI had been brought forward 12 months ago when it was first on the table, and not subjected to incomprehensible delays, the outcome could have been very different.

    But we are where we are and a dose of political reality must be taken. The real losers are, of course, the hill farmers and the fox.

    Stephen Lambert, chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, commented that: “All of us who are interested in countryside issues will have to reassess the ‘rural credentials’ of all politicians as we approach the general election, before deciding where to apply our energy on the streets.”

    In generations past, general elections were decided by the numerically class vote. Nowadays, the main parties clamour for the middle ground, courting their idea of the urban middle class.

    This is seemingly at the expense of a slice of the electorate starting to look elsewhere to cast their vote.

    Falling into the sweaty embrace of the populist UKIP would not be such a good idea, although the country will probably give itself a ghastly fright at the May European elections.

    Imagine the ridiculous chaos that would have ensued if the party’s policy on hunting has been enacted after the last general election.

    The UKIP-POTH (policy on the hoof) demanded each county hold a referendum on repeal.

    Some packs hunt in as many as four counties, sometimes three in one day. Splintering the vote would reduce hunting’s support in Westminster.

    Rural voters, including hunt supporters, want to feel enfranchised and not taken for granted. Our loyalty needs to count.

    “Listen to us” chanted by over 100,000 people in 1997 at the Countryside
    Rally in Hyde Park should still echo loudly around the corridors of power.

    The best chance of repeal lies in a healthy Tory majority. It is the only
    show in town that could deliver it and the highly regarded Vote-OK must be
    more stream-lined and concentrated in its support. It should be a mutually
    advantageous relationship.

    It may be a perverse repercussion, but whatever the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence, hunting in England and Wales may benefit.

    Of the 59 Scottish MPs in Westminster, currently 41 are Labour and Tories have just one. So those of a more Machiavellian disposition might proffer that an independent Scotland would make a future Tory majority in Westminster – and therefore real – more likely.

    However, hunting may be a totemic issue but it doesn’t want to be blamed for the break-up of the union – nor would any Prime Minister like it on their watch.

    A “no” to independence could kick-start a series of proposals, the outcome of which may too benefit hunting south of the border.

    “Devo-max” [full financial independence] of the Scottish Parliament could see a trade-off resolution of the West Lothian issue, whereby Scottish MPs are not allowed to vote in Westminster on issues concerning England and Wales.

    Interesting times are ahead. Help might arrive in some form from Scotland, but there needs to be a Tory manifesto commitment that, in the event of a working majority, there will be an immediate post-general election bill in Government time.

    With a fair wind, next season could be the last under the Hunting Act.