John Holliday: ‘Jezza, the most unlikely ally’ *H&H VIP*

  • The failure of the present government to pass the sensible amendments to the current hunting legislation is lamentable.

    Once again, common sense has become a casualty of Westminster politics. Our position is pretty wretched, with repeal looking highly unlikely in the short term. Ten years have passed since the Hunting Act; it is difficult to see it being any more likely with the passage time.

    However there is a glimmer of hope in the unlikely guise of the new (old) Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. “Can it be?” I hear you cry, “that the anti-monarchist, anti-capitalist, anti-Nato and anti-defence of the realm Jezza is not only a fan of Hamas and the Russkies, but also a field sports supporter?”

    Well… no. I think it’s highly unlikely. Can’t really picture him in plus fours, Purdey in hand, like Harold Macmillan or indeed, in a silk hat waiting with anticipation at the infamous covert Parsons Thorns, like Churchill.

    However, the likelihood is that the Labour Party has just elected a chap to lead Her Majesty’s loyal opposition who will ensure they remain just that for some considerable time.

    That leaves us with the Conservatives, from whom we receive the most support. It also leaves five, maybe 10, years to do something about the intolerable pressure under which many hunt servants have to work.

    First, the sensible amendments proposed by the government need to be repackaged, so they can be seen to be just that. Somehow we allow the press to portray them as “a relaxing of the ban”, which they most certainly and regrettably are not.

    They are, though, a sensible way of helping wildlife management at no expense to the tax payer. Wavering MPs need proper education and reassurance.

    I am told that David Cameron is supportive of the countryside and understands our predicament. Given that he has signalled his intention to step down, it is worth noting that when it comes to hunting, it is highly unlikely that the next prime minister will give a flying fig.

    Sometime soon is probably the last realistic opportunity to achieve a result. It is not the time to drop the bridle — now is the time to pick up the whip and use your full allowance.

    Eager anticipation

    Autumn hunting has, as usual, been a frenzied time. Most huntsmen, I imagine, need little persuasion to do the extra days required at this time of year; wholehearted devotion to their job is reason enough.

    However, unlike times past, when the local MFH had little to do but run their hunt country efficiently, now, almost without exception, people taking on official roles in the hunt have jobs to do and bills to pay.

    It would be easy to take for granted the extra effort required, but rest assured it is worth it.

    Apart from the obvious benefits for hounds and important preparation for the imminent open season, it is essential to cover the whole of your country and fly the flag even in the least fashionable areas, and autumn is a good time to do it.

    A recent television series Titchmarsh on Capability Brown featured Belvoir Estate and the efforts to complete plans made by Capability Brown for the fifth Duke.

    Now, during the stewardship of the 11th Duke, the transformation is all but complete.

    The Estate has undergone something of a renaissance during recent years, of the sort achieved only by single-minded determination. The season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” sees the park at its best, which, combined with the anticipation of the season to come, makes autumn my favourite time of year.

    Hardly a day goes by when I don’t appreciate my good fortune in occupying the position I do.

    There is, naturally, a book by Her Grace the Duchess of Rutland to accompany the series. The launch of said tome took place in London recently and was by all accounts a grand affair.

    There were gun dogs, tweed clad keepers — even a horse. And, representing the hunt, our second whipper-in — he doesn’t get out much and could barely conceal his excitement for the trip.

    We sent two hounds to look after him and they kept him on a lead at all times. He was also chaperoned by the Ladies Violet, Alice and Eliza Manners who are, I am told, more used to the attentions of the national press and society pages than the whipper-in is. It has been cheering to see all three shun for a time the bright lights to appear in the hunting field this season.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 November 2015