Hunting – Banned: Political and Personal Reflections Part One: The Politics of the Ban

by Alexander Moseley by Alexander Moseley

War destroys liberties like no other force unleashed by man upon man. War – cruel and barbaric – swipes away life and property and in its wake freedoms and traditional rights; it stomps Goliath-like on the intricate cultures and patterns of complex life, it appeals to the lowest denominator of human baseness: hatred. In the kingdom in which I live, the past few years have seen liberty after liberty stolen, trampled on, undermined, and abolished. Rights to income earned, rights to property owned, rights to exchange and publication of views, swept away under the various guises of war's mantle.

And I am not talking about the war in Iraq. I am talking about the war against the citizens, from which war abroad often follows.

This evening (Thursday, 18th November) in the United Kingdom a group of backbench MPs in collusion with the Speaker of the Commons have pushed through a ban on hunting with hounds in what can only be seen as a declaration of war upon a law-abiding minority. Several times over the past few years Bills to outlaw hunting with hounds have been soundly rejected by the upper chamber – the House of Lords, a chamber which, must be pointed out, is now increasingly populated by political hacks and cronies and Blair supporters than the image many hold of members of the (persecuted) aristocracy. Tonight, the Speaker of the House of Commons (a man whose pronunciation of English is somewhat garbled by his strong Glaswegian dialect) decided to force the latest Bill to ban hunting with hounds through Parliament, using a rarely used u2018Parliament Act', which was designed, in 1949, to permit constitutional change to be forced through in the face of the upper chamber's intransigence to change.

The powers of the upper chamber to check the exuberance, myopia, or plain stupidity, prejudice and arrogance of the lower chamber have been overturned. And do not even think that the Monarch comes into the equation. I once had a fondness for the monarchy, a patriotic regard similar to how an American may perceive the Stars and Stripes – forever there in times of trouble, standing true under attack, holding its head high when the country verged on ruin, an icon of unity and continuity. No longer. Her Majesty, who is a keen country sports supporter, has done nothing.

Evil flourishes when good men do nothing, the great orator Edmund Burke putatively said – how true.

Arrogant backbenchers laud themselves as representatives of the people, whom they believe seek a hunt ban. Arrant nonsense. Opinion polls typically show a 50-50 division on the issue if not a presumption in favour of hunting or the liberty to hunt. But with an increasingly urban population ignorant of the intricacies of life in countryside, and millions of children brought up on the culture and propaganda of animal rights, even such a division could not justify the forcing through of a Bill that tramples on rights and removes ancient liberties. As John Stuart Mill wrote – it would be wrong for 99% of the population to impose their view upon 1% as it would be wrong for 1% to impose its view on 99%. The Speaker and the backbenchers have rejected popular opinion and have rejected any sensitivity for ethical controversy. (Shooters, anglers and purveyors of halal/kosher meat beware!) The Commons shall set the ethical tone of the land – it will wage a moral crusade against smoking, drinking, hunting, music, and every other tradition in the land.

So why the ban? The politicians who supported it have rejected the findings of commission after commission, they have rejected evidence, they have rejected attending hunts or kennels, they have rejected the economic impact a ban will have, they have rejected freedom.

In previous articles I've called these Crusaders u2018Puritans' in reference to Cromwell's godly men who sought to abolish frivolity and secular pleasures. The roots of the Labour Party certainly can be traced to elements of that broad dissenting church, but its modern fruit is bitter indeed. I follow the hunt on foot in one of the oldest traditions in the land – hare hunting. It predates the Romans – indeed, British hounds were sought after by the Romans. (Incidentally, Plato even applauds the holy hunters who hunt on foot or horse!) The hunt – temporarily the monopoly of the crown and aristocracy in the early Middle Ages– is today, and has been for centuries, democratic and equal: all external social divisions evaporate on the hunting field where reputation rises on merit, wisdom, and sportsmanlike conduct. The dignity and classlessness of the hunts is achieved through private interaction – through the localised politics of private organisation and voluntary subscription; and the hunts have been at the forefront of both conservation and animal welfare measures. Their values and virtues could not be repeated by nationalisation, regulation, or government – indeed, at hunt suppers, guest politicians do not sit at the top table, for traditionally the Master of Hounds or of Fox Hounds is higher in social rank than an MP.

Perhaps that lowly yet accurate reflection of their rank in the hearts and minds of private society piques some MPs sufficiently to seek a ban on hunting. Others may be motivated by misplaced notions of cruelty or barbarity, some by animal rights theories; but most are motivated by old fashioned Marxist driven class hatred – naked prejudice against what they see as the remnants of an ancient feudal order: a land-owning class, supposedly Tory in its politics and capitalistic in its predispositions. In my experience – a newcomer to hunting in the past four years – the hunts attract a broad range of supporters in age, wealth, and class. But of course the MPs who have passed this act of war upon the land never went to find out with their own eyes – arguably, they cried for a ban because the hunts had become the last vestige of freedom: a self-regulating, dignified, and traditional institution. They have waged class-war upon a minority – and in winning the Parliamentary battle tonight, they have shown that the House of Commons rules the land. The Lords is defunct, the Monarchy useless.

The hunt lobby (the Countryside Alliance) will seek redress in the Courts – but challenging legislation without a standard of right or wrong is like grasping wet soap. Some hope lies with the European Courts. But what of revolt?

There have been moments of activism that even the left should have been proud of. Hunt supporters have brought motorways down to a snail's pace, half a million have marched outside of Parliament, brave lads have stormed the Commons to express their indignation at the prejudice therein, Ministers have been u2018hounded' and have cancelled visits to the countryside. The hunting population is generally incredibly law-abiding, yet thousands have signed a declaration to break the law. And still the backbenchers refused to listen – and what really irks is that we're paying their bloody salaries, while they destroy our liberties. We've declared to go on hunting and the ban may be just what this country needs – a bloody wake up call to the institutions and liberties it's losing hand over fist to the meddling fascists now roaming the corridors of national government.

When thousands break a law that the police deem unenforceable (how to arrest a woman or child on horse back with a hound at her heel in modern Britain is a rather humorous conundrum for the authorities), then the rule of the Commons will come into disrepute and hopefully into question. Yet questioning is far from most people's minds these days – it's been taught out of the population by the state school system and by the mind-numbing banality of popular culture. Still, images of red-jacketed huntsmen being arrested and pulled off their horses for hunting quarry on their own land, may provoke enough indignation in this slumbering land of lost liberties.

Part Two: Personal Experiences and Reflection.

The main hunting lobby – the Countryside Alliance – has come a long way in putting forward its message that hunting is ecologically sound, environmentally friendly, pro-conservation, and generally good for communities (the necessary language of the modern West!). But it made the grave mistake of believing the government's cant that it was going to listen, despite all the evidence of spin on so many issues. Tony Blair will go down as the slipperiest Prime Minister in our history – a man who has ridden through personal and political controversy more regularly than our trains run, and he will ride through this one with his cheesy u2018what me? nothing to do with me, I'm just an ordinary guy' grin. He has given the Hunt Bill over to his back benchers while his Cabinet wages an unjustifiable war in Iraq, a war that his own back benchers threatened mutiny on. Was it the thought of the Hunt Bill that appeased them to support the bombing and occupation of a foreign land? Perhaps, but then again, it is more likely the thought of a promotion to a cosy job in the unelected halls of Brussels for being good ovine supporters of Beloved Blair. Support the war and ban the hunts – simple.

The Countryside Alliance also made the mistake of preaching to the converted. Advert after advert appeared in the country sports magazines – or banners and posters along rural routes. Campaign tents were set up at country fairs – and yes, that's where the membership drives ought to be, but evangelism needs to spread its wings into the dark corners of ignorant urban Britain. Many times and to many folk both high and low in the organisation I've expressed the need to preach to soccer crowds, to advertise to urban Britain and to get into the schools. Of course, I'm not the only one. Frustrations run high when the only organisation capable of producing the goods fails to do so or its spirit falters – it's only natural to snap at those closest to you.

Yet when I met a new political adviser at a show, I was surprised to meet a young woman – a very attractive lass, but a science graduate. Youth against the political experience of back benchers whose average political experience spans decades! A science graduate against the PhDs of political science and theory. Beauty against the greasiest spinning machine ever produced in the land. Despair! Then, when I advanced a campaign idea of naming and shaming schools that permitted or acquiesced in state funded teachers mocking and intellectually bullying country sports enthusiast pupils, I had no reply – yet speaking to many pupils from the state sector it was obvious that the war had been going on for years and teachers could get away with such bigotry and prejudice that levelled against ethnicity or religion would have been a sacking offence. The campaign would have been cheap – and the marketing simple – no reply. I asked about an educational officer – none presently existed; one had taken the job after graduating, I was told by one of the best activists and campaigners the Countryside Alliance has (Clare Rowson, by the way, of the West Midlands division who deserves international recognition and a medal for her unflagging defence of hunting and her barracking of Ministers). After graduating? So again, no experience, no understanding of the national curriculum that prides itself on teaching how u2018stereotyping leads to prejudice leads to racism which leads to genocide'? He lasted a few months I gather.

A more personal gripe: last year I launched a novel, Wither This Land, set against the then predictable application of the Parliament Act to ban hunting while war waged in Iran (I had initially put Iraq in the first drafts, written months before any policy to attack Iraq had been publicised – another hat I wear is that of a specialist in the philosophy of war). The novel has been read by antis and gained their respect, it has been read by neutrals and got them interested in hunting; hunt supporters have loved it. It's the kind of book that the CA should be flogging like hotcakes – not because it's mine per se (although the income would be nice), but because it deals with the ideas surrounding the issue in a highly readable manner. The novel's a u2018rip-roaring adventure' as one of the CA executive said. I've sold the book to most of the executive of the CA and to many supporters of the more activist Countryside Action Network. But my reading of the situation is that my colleagues can't handle (or market) ideas – even though that's where the main war is taking place. In cynical moments I think that the novel's absence from the CA on-line shop is due to its lack of pictures.

I've written to various personages saying, hey, this is the kind of book you should be disseminating in class rooms and book clubs – it's hot, it's on your side, it generates debate, it provokes, it satirises Blair's Britain, it's a laugh, it's an adventure, it gets people talking and thinking. No replies. After the House of Commons was stormed by hunt protesters, I wrote to the major papers – I'd predicted this, many in the CA and CAN have read my novel – hello??? is there anyone in there? Want to know what could happen next?? No replies.

Despite an incredible campaign, the CA has been politically naïve, too accommodating (only marching on Parliament en masse on a Sunday – when there were no bloody MPs around!!!), too decent (and turning on the fuming membership who have crossed legal boundaries), and too bloody nice old-fashioned Miss Marple British by half. I met a farmer in Devon who said he'd blow the electrical pylons on his land that fed a local town if they banned hunting: I hope he has the courage to do so. The CA bumper stickers proclaim u2018Keep your bulls**t in Westminster and we'll keep ours in the country.' My car's paintwork got u2018keyed' because of that – but I hope the sh*t will now flow freely Westminster's way. Wither This Land predicts – or encourages, if you like – more radical acts. It also provides a picture of how we could live – in a land free from interference.

My second novel is due out any moment. Tonight, I'm supposed to be writing the blurb for the dust jacket, but political news, usually so depressingly trite, obvious, and predictable, motivates me to pen this. But the second novel deserves a plug; after all I'm the only one doing any plugging: Vestiges of Freedom is set a hundred years from now – hunting's banned and long gone, but so too have horses and pets and books. It follows the adventures of an artist who hears that horses still exist in the northern Wasteland (of present day northern England and Scotland) – an eco-nuclear disaster zone, the product of suicide terrorists and nuclear war. I don't go into that scenario too much, for the book is a satire on the European Union and where we're presently headed – regulations and licences needed for every move and breath we take. It's about my country in the aftermath of war – international war and war on civilians. And my hero, the increasingly anarchic Robin Bradbury, decides to go on a quest to find horses. His adventures attract the attention of the authorities, who predictably close in, but how they do so, and what happens is much less predictable. Hah.

And so I close – war has been finally declared on the countryside. I've let out my barbaric yawps outside of the House of Commons; written email after email to journalists, letters to local papers, emailed dozens of comments to the BBC u2018Have Your Say' column (rarely printed as I often encourage revolt or the privatisation of the BBC!), hand-written letters to MPs and Lords; I've dined with an anti-hunt MP at the House of Commons to express how inconsistent he was being (his reply: "I will vote for it but hope it fails" … !!!); I've even written a novel about the issue and shouted its story from the rooftops and advertised it nationally at great cost. And as I turn to retire, I fear that just as my personal campaign to get a damn good novel noticed and picked up has been overwhelmed by the noise of the modern society in which anybody's opinion or writing is as good as any one else's, so too will the hunt lobby's campaign fall flat on deaf ears – politicians' ears closed to reason and evidence, and the population's ears closed to ideas and to controversy.

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