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Who gives a fox about hunting now?

Read spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on how the vacuous hunting debate sums up British politics.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics

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Who could give a fox about hunting with hounds now? The slightly strange hunting fraternity care, obviously, but their minority sport does not affect the rest of society any more than golf does. The anti-hunting zealots care too, but then they live in a world of their own where, in the words of one Oxford academic, hunting foxes is the moral equivalent of torturing children (go tell it to the Russians, professor). However, when most of us think about the priority issues that need addressing, fox hunting ranks slightly below terrorism, transport, health, education, speed cameras and the TV licence fee.

So why do our politicians insist on treating fox hunting with the sort of gravitas normally reserved for a constitutional crisis or war? The Times reports that another Bill to ban fox hunting is to be announced this week, and then forced through the House of Commons in a single day. When the House of Lords inevitably rejects it, the Government apparently is prepared to invoke the Parliament Act to override the Upper House. These are almost unheard-of measures. It is even more extraordinary that they might be deployed to resolve a dispute over pest control.

I have no interest at all in hunting. I did once follow a hunt, bouncing around on the back of a quad bike; a long day going up hill and down ditch, on a journey back, forth and round in circles that often seemed as endlessly pointless as the hunting ban debate, though far more fun.

I do not much care which method we use to control vermin in the countryside (anybody who lives in London, as I do, should be in no doubt that foxes are fine-looking, verminous scavengers). But I do get extremely ratty every time somebody tries to put a ban on hunting back on the political agenda. The hunting debate/debacle sums up much that is vacuous, moronic and putrid about British political life. The issue itself may be irrelevant. But the debate is very revealing.

The Government is said to be reintroducing the Bill to ban hunting in order to placate Labour MPs and activists, for whom this ridiculous issue has apparently become a key test of the Government’s credibility. There have even been murmurs about ministers resigning if a ban is not introduced. It is reassuring to know that politicians who have happily sat in government through wars, disasters and scandals have such a fine sense of priorities.

The mindset of the anti-hunting militants is forcefully expressed by the Labour MP, Tony Banks, a former minister who declares a ban to be ‘totemic’ for the Labour Party. This year, he proposed a little-noticed motion in Parliament which included the statement ‘This House… believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet, and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the Earth and wipes them out thus giving Nature the opportunity to start again.’

Perhaps Mr Banks will include that on his next election leaflet; no doubt it would go down well with the good burghers of his East London constituency. It is often said that the anti-hunt lobby is motivated by an outdated class hatred of ‘toffs’. But people such as Mr Banks are more representative of a fashionable self-loathing of ‘uncivilised’ humanity and elevation of ‘Nature’. Yeah, I mean, what have human beings ever done for us?

That the Government now seems willing to force through a ban demonstrates its desperation to do something, anything that seems popular in the Labour Party. That said, on past form Mr Blair may yet change his mind this week, or at least postpone implementing any ban until after the election. Our Prime Minister stands revealed as a self-styled ‘conviction politician’ who will threaten extraordinary measures to impose a ban that he doesn’t really support – and then bottle out of going through with it anyway. It is ironic that an impassioned row over a blood sport should so vividly illustrate the bloodless, passionless character of new Labour.

Not that I am any more impressed with the pro-hunting lobby’s reliance on the Lords and the courts to fight its battles. If the libertarian in me opposes a ban on hunting, the democrat in me thinks that the Commons’ will should not be thwarted by an unelected, ermined body or bewigged beak. It is obscene, perverted and uncivilised of politicians to make a stupid ban on fox hunting a ‘totemic’ issue. But that is no excuse for waiting and hoping that it will be wiped out by ‘the inevitable asteroid’ – a Lords vote or the Human Rights Act.

First published in The Times (London), 5 September 2004.

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Topics Politics

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