For many years I’ve been in the habit of attending the Fernie Hunt’s Boxing day meet at Great Bowden, near Market Harborough, and this year was no exception. The sun shone from a clear blue sky, and some hundreds of people gathered on the village green, with the riders and hounds. A thaw was just setting in, although I suspect not soon enough to allow serious hunting. But the tradition of the Boxing Day Meet was maintained. Mulled wine, coffee and hot chocolate were available from the Shoulder of Mutton on the green.
Strange how historic dividing lines between the generations are becoming blurred in the 21st century. For the first time in my life, I saw a man with an ear-ring and a hearing aid, in the same ear.
The enthusiastic crowd at this event, and at a couple of hundred Meets up and down the country, serve as a standing rebuke to the envious and embittered kill-joys of the Labour Party, determined to maintain their Hunting Act as long as they can. Yet this was the day that Environment Minister Hilary Benn chose to launch an attack on what he called the Tory pledge to repeal the Act (of course we are pledged to a free vote in the House of Commons, not to repeal per se). The Act was always about class envy and spite (“Getting our own back for the miners”), rather than animal welfare, and Benn’s attack was clearly a tactic designed to open another front in Labour’s increasingly desperate attempts to re-open a class war.
It is odd to reflect that Labour’s tactic is based on a misconception. On the evidence of today’s crowd at Great Bowden, I’d say that ordinary folk were better represented there than the chinless wonders and county squirearchy. Many hunt followers find it challenging to pay for their winter feed, but they hang in there because they love the sport, they love their horses, they love the countryside and they love the living tradition of hunting. I used to be an enthusiast for hare coursing before the wretched Act outlawed it, and while some of the owners were well-heeled, the crowd at the Waterloo Cup was always predominantly working class. Hare coursing has traditionally been popular with pitmen, so it is ironical that Labour’s leftist ideologues imagine that banning coursing is somehow compensation for the miners.
But the most remarkable effrontery of Benn’s attack was his suggestion that with the economic crisis bequeathed by Labour to the next Conservative government, it was an odd priority for the Conservatives to be promising a free vote on hunting. It was his Labour government that wasted an extraordinary 700 hours of parliamentary time on this vindictive and unworkable Act — and even then they had to resort shamefully to the Parliament Act to get it through. This is many times the amount of parliamentary time they allocated to debating the invasion of Iraq.
The free vote the Conservatives propose will take very little parliamentary time. And we will do it, Hilary, because we gave our word to do it. That seems a good enough reason to me.
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