There is a pub in Kennington called the Prince of Wales, tucked away in a nice little Georgian square. It’s where for years the Countryside Alliance team would retreat to celebrate and commiserate — something of a regular occurrence in those days.
And it was there that, on the night the Parliament Act finally brought the curtain down on 700 hours of Parliamentary debate on hunting, our forces gathered for the final time as champions of this lawful and historic activity.
As is the way of these things, the mood was surprisingly upbeat. We may have lost the votes but we had won the arguments; we had shifted public opinion, and we had changed the media attitude to hunting forever. But emotions ran high as the finality of that moment sunk in.
I took calls from some of the team who had been with us from the start. Sam Butler, Julian Barnfield, Patrick Martin all checked in — as robust as ever, but I sensed a feeling of overwhelming anger. Darren Hughes chirpy, Nicky Driver defiant, John Jackson unshakeable.
My chat with the Manns — who probably had given as much as anybody — lifted my troubled spirits and inspired me to return to the barricades to launch the counter attack.
There was no doubt that Labour had been damaged by this (as Tony Blair later conceded). It had revealed an unpleasant streak of vengefulness and prejudice that the New Labour project had sought to conceal. Our people, our quirky ways, our hitherto unseen communities had been bullied and ridiculed for no good reason that any truly independent observer could really fathom.
But it was this that was their biggest mistake. I can say now that before all of this kicked off, we knew that such was the weight of the Labour majority that our best efforts would still only delay, rather than avert, the inevitable consequence of decades of pent-up political aggression and attrition.
We knew that our fight back was possibly too little, too late, but crucial nonetheless. These aggressors had, for many years, never been countered at all.
We assumed — wrongly — that if we kept out of the political limelight, they would eventually leave us alone. So in some ways, now was actually our chance to put that right. They say that “time is the weapon of opposition”, so we set about creating that.
Constant political dog fighting — marches, demonstrations, stunts — all backed up by legal challenges provided us the time we needed to get the evidence to make the case. Liberty, welfare, economy, community, heritage and management all had their place in the mix. Each needed new and eloquent evangelists sweeping through the local and national media. There were meetings with Blair and his team in no. 10 that still remain unreported…
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And what about “plan b” — the “what if we are banned” scenario?
John Jackson said that there was no such thing as “plan b”, only a “plan a” that we should be prepared to adjust. He was right.
So “plan b” emerged rather by mistake. We had often talked about disobedience; indeed it split our ranks somewhat. What happened next was better than that. We had three months from November to February to get ready for “enactment”; just a few weeks to find loopholes (thanks to the rushed nature
of the final stages, there were plenty to choose from).
As I emerged from the steps of the High Court, confronted by a press pack that was normally reserved for fallen celebrities, and with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, I was asked, “what next?”.
Stumped for words, I simply said: “Keep fighting, keep hunting.”
And that is what happened. By the time we got to 18 February 2005 — the first day’s hunting under the Hunting Act — I knew we had them beaten. Everyone intact, thousands flocking to our cause, global media and an absolute determination that it would be “business as usual” has carried hunting from that day to this.
With or without repeal, the Hunting Act is dead. It died on 18 February 2005. What remains now is the need to give it a decent burial.
Ref: H&H Thursday 19 February, 2015