Lorraine Platt is the founder of Blue Badger..
The new environment minister George Eustice MP was quoted recently as saying that parliamentary time is “increasingly precious” and there is a “reluctance to put a vote to the Commons if it would not reverse the Hunting Act”.
Our campaigns team, Blue Fox, has always maintained that parliamentary time is best spent on the economy – and not on repealing illegal sports that the majority of the public oppose. It is important to remember that polls have demonstrated that, in rural communities, support for the ban is high. Seven in 10 (72 per cent) want to see foxhunting remain illegal, whilst 82 per cent think deer hunting should continue to be banned, and 86 per cent support the ban on hare hunting and coursing.
Our Blue Fox campaign, also known as Conservatives Against Fox Hunting, started in 2010 when my husband, who was Chairman of our Esher and Walton Association at the time – he is the President now – and I came across talk of the party leadership’s support for a return of hunting with dogs, and its commitment to offer a free vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act. We were very surprised to hear this and were taken aback by it, as the ban not only bars fox hunting but stag hunting, hare hunting and hare coursing with dogs. We asked ourselves who could possibly want a return of activities that involve setting dogs onto wild animals for sport. We don’t support badger baiting or dog fighting, which share the same characteristics of setting dogs onto animals for the recreational sport of a minority of people – so why should we want a return of the same cruelty to stags, hares and foxes?
When we were out canvassing and handing out leaflets for our local Conservative Association, voters on the doorstep would speak to us of their concern about a return of hunting with dogs, and ask why should they want to support a party that supported a return of illegal sports? We then built a simple website to say as Conservatives: let’s keep hunting banned, and not waste precious parliamentary time on a ban that the majority of the public support – and get on with getting the economy on track, and so forth.
We received tons of emails from people expressing their relief that other Tories felt the same way about this issue. Some even said that they did not feel they could vote Conservative at this time, as they were so concerned about the leadership’s support for repeal. Our mission is to dispel the myth that all Conservative supporters are pro-hunting. Poll after poll has demonstrated that three quarters of the population want to see fox hunting remain illegal.
So from one basic homemade website, we then decided to take it further and set up an online group for everyone who had emailed us to connect further on our Facebook site and twitter sites which have a combined following of thousands of followers, including MPs, peers and councillors, Association Chairmen, agents, Conservative candidates, Associations and environmental journalists all over the country. Blue Fox activists are all volunteers who give up their time to speak out to protect wildlife.
It is vital that Conservative supporters and activists speak out against a return of hunting with dogs, as the threat of repeal is mostly from the Conservative leadership. It is extraordinarily that 85 per cent of Conservative MPs support a return of hunting with dogs – and this is where we focus our work.
We held our first parliamentary breakfast briefing for anti-hunting Conservative MPs in 2010, jointly with the League Against Cruel Sports 11 months after the start of our campaign and it was attended by six anti-hunting Conservative MPs. The CEOS of the League Against cruel Sports and IFAW attended along with Dr Brian May of Queen. We have held six successful anti-hunting events for Conservative MPs since then. We have daily dialogues with several Conservative MPs who have thanked us for providing information resources, briefings and organising parliamentary events where they can meet up together.
We held the largest anti hunting parliamentary event in June 2013 which was very well attended by 10 anti hunting Conservative MPs, a leading Criminal Law QC and some of our Blue Fox team comprised of Conservative councillors, Conservative Women’s Future and a Conservative Association president.
We very recently gave a talk against hunting with dogs to the Esher & Walton Conservative Women’s organisation with Conservationist Bill Oddie OBE.The event was very successful and was also attended by both the Mayor of Elmbridge and the Conservative leader of the Council amongst the audience of Conservative supporters, Councillors and the Esher and Walton CWO committee.
It is significant that many of our team are Conservative women. The repeal issue is toxic and damaging to the progressive image of the Conservative party brand ,and alienates some people from engaging with the Party. No party can afford to alienate supporters, especially women, which every party is keen to connect with. We have four Conservative MPs as our patrons – Sir Roger Gale, the Chairman of Conservative Animal Welfare, Caroline Dinenage, Tracey Crouch and Mike Weatherley. We are members of the Associate Parliamentary Group For Animal Welfare in the House of Commons and the Partnership For Action Against Wildlife crime – PAW. I was honoured to be awarded the International Fund For Animal Welfare’ Campaigner Winner 2012 at a ceremony in the House Of Lords.
We will continue to be vigilant for any back door efforts to ease or amend the hunting ban, and will continue with our determined work to promote wildlife protection campaigns amongst politicians in Westminster. The Hunting Act is here to protect wildlife from hunting with dogs for sport, and is not about political point-scoring. It is about doing the right thing for our wildlife, who have no voice of their own. There will always be a minority of people who will flout laws on dogs fighting, badger baiting, hare coursing and so on for sport. But that does not mean that these laws should not be in place. Bull baiting was flouted for several decades before it was finally accepted. and iwas was highly contested in it’s day. There is no place for setting dogs onto animals for sport in the 21st century.
Our sound bite is ‘Don’t Run With The Pack’ and this signifies both standing up for your own authentic convictions despite peer pressure and to take a stand against the legalisation of wild stags, foxes and hares once again being hunted by packs of dogs for sport.