I was taken aback, and saddened, to find that there’s a group established in Westminster called “Conservatives Against Fox-Hunting”.
I am not at all clear about their motivation. Are they genuinely concerned about animal welfare? If so, they ought to have read the Burns report. They know (or ought to know) that hunting with hounds is the most humane way of culling foxes. It is the only way that guarantees that an injured fox is never left to a lingering, painful death — and there are no hospices for foxes. They know (or ought to know) that hunting is the only culling method that preferentially takes old, weak or sick foxes, and thus promotes the fitness (in a Darwinian sense) of the fox population.
Thus hunting is good for the fox population generally, and may even be better for the individual fox than to be left to die of starvation or sickness. Without hunting, other less humane culling methods, legal or illegal — shooting, trapping, snaring, poisoning — will be used.
Do they just hate the idea of civilised people “taking pleasure in seeing a fox ripped to pieces”? Is it all about promoting a cuddly, fluffy image for the Party? They can be reassured. Few of those who follow the hunt actually see the kill, and no one I’ve ever met takes a sadistic interest in the death of the fox per se. They simply love the countryside, the horses, the fresh air, the fences, the access to the land, and the hounds working (just as those who follow hare coursing, as I used to do before the ban, take no pleasure in the death of the hare — but they delight in seeing the greyhounds compete with each other).
And no, a scent trail isn’t just the same. The whole point of a live quarry is that it’s autonomous and unpredictable.
Do they believe that hunting is just too old-fashioned for today’s world? I’ve heard it said that “We don’t have to keep doing it just because it’s traditional”. No indeed. But we don’t have to stop doing it just because it’s traditional, either. Conservatives of a Burkean disposition respect the wisdom of their forebears. A good motto for Tories is “If it is not necessary to change something, it is necessary not to change it”. Too often, change for the sake of change just makes matters worse. Conservatives should be instantly sceptical of what Tony Blair called “modernisation”, or others call “alteration for the sake of novelty”.
Do they just find the idea of hunting distasteful? That’s their right, and their response should simply be not to hunt. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to do it. I don’t like football, but I don’t want to ban it. Again, the instinct of Conservatives should be, as far as possible, to leave moral choices to individual citizens. They should not reach first of all for the heavy hammer of bans and legislation. Freedom, and the right to make our own choices as far as possible, should be at the heart of conservative philosophy — and policy.
Or do they rely on a self-serving belief that there are votes in opposing hunting? I suspect not. While a significant proportion of the public will tell pollsters that they oppose hunting, they don’t feel strongly about it. Few turn out to oppose it — but best part of half a million turned out in London to support hunting, and most of those were Tory voters.
Finally, there is a matter of trust. Conservative MPs were elected on a manifesto commitment to take action on the Hunting Act. As a result, huge numbers of hunting people came out to support the Party in recent elections. I well remember one night of appalling weather in Scarborough, where I and Chris Heaton-Harris MP were canvassing on behalf of Robert Goodwill MP, our former MEP colleague. The wind was howling, the rain was horizontal, the umbrellas were blown away. Frankly, I’d have been inclined to give up, but I was shamed into continuing by the local hunt supporters who had turned out with us, and who carried on regardless.
Similar scenes were played out across the country, mostly but not solely in rural areas and Conservative heartlands. We owe these people a debt of gratitude. I’d go further, and say it’s a debt of honour. We owe it to them to repeal this unworkable and illiberal Act.