I am very pleased to see Steve Ladyman South Thanet's MP (pictured with Hilary Benn, DEFRA Secretary of State) signing up to support the ban on fox hunting with dogs. There are many levels on which this is the right thing to do. Firstly, public opinion overwhelmingly supports the ban. No one is saying foxes should not be shot. What the law says is that it should not be a bit of fun to see an animal torn to pieces.
There are two other aspects which are rarely brought out into the open on this debate. First tally-ho foxhunting is utterly inefficient. If a smallholder or a farmer has problem with foxes they want it resolved quickly. The classically cited situation is of a fox in a chicken run. If this happens to you, you do not say “I will look at the hunt diary, and await the hunt meeting in my part of the county in 3/4/5 weeks. In the meantime it is mighty fine for the fox to return as often as it likes and to raid my neighbours." No you get your gun and you go out and shoot the fox or fiund somebody who will do so.
Lamping is a common practice still in many parts of the country, and it responds to the problem. Hunting with hounds is a social ritual. It is about people like David Cameron wanting some recreational activity at the weekend. It is about dressing up. It is about going riding with your friends. It is not about quickly and efficiently killing your pest.
Secondly, as someone whose family comes from a rural area, there is a class issue to hunting. I grew up understanding that many people in villages allowed the hunt over their smallholdings or rented land, in what was still an almost feudal acknowledgment of power. The majority of people who hunt are wealthy and frequently own considerable lands. The rural economy acts in many ways on an informal basis. If you refused permission for local hunts to cross your property the consequences would be subtle but notable. When casual labour is needed on the bigger farms and estates at the busier times of year, you would find yourself at the back of the queue. Borrowing equipment, and exchanging favours, all the little things that make a community would become problematic.
The exercising of hunts of their “right to rampage” (rather than roam) is as Conservatives put it a traditional country activity. The reality was that a favoured few expected to be able to ride where they wanted, when they wanted and how they wanted. Woe betide any kittens out playing when a pack of hounds came by.
So as well as being slow to respond to the need to kill foxes, hunts cause considerable damage to community cohesion. That’s why even in rural areas there is overwhelming public support for the ban. Hunts with hounds are inefficient and their behaviour is anti-social. Real country people know you do not wait for the hunt, you go out and shoot foxes whilst the evidence is fresh. It is far better if people want to dress up and ride out together, for them to follow a scented trail laid out across the land of those who are happy to have hunts, or have been paid for the privilege.
Yet despite this being the democratic wish of the vast majority of people David Cameron, Roger Gale and Laura Sandys are pledged to make the repealing of the hunting ban a priority if elected. They want people to have the right to set dogs on a fox, and pull it limb from limb in a bloody gory ritual. We should be proud of the distinguished record of animal charities like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and we should expose the fact that the Conservative Party wants to reintroduce a barbaric, brutal uncivilised ritual because many of its leading members consider it fun.