James Barrington is a former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. He is now an animal welfare consultant to Countryside Alliance, Council of Hunting Associations and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group.
The sight of John Prescott, with his leader Jeremy Corbyn in the background, pulling a toy fox out of a sack at Labour rally and shouting, “Theresa May wants to tear this apart” showed just how ridiculous and desperate he really is.
He was cheered on by people who, it would seem, know little about dogs, even less about hunting and probably couldn’t care less about the consequences of a hunting ban.
Actually, John, no she doesn’t want to tear apart a toy fox, nor does she want to tear apart a live fox – that’s the job of the hounds, something you might have known if you’d bothered to properly understand the activity of fox hunting. But best not to let facts get in the way when trying to make a political point.
Ask Lord Prescott, Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed anyone who supports the Hunting Act what the effect this legislation has had on wildlife and you will be hard pushed to get a sensible answer.
Instead, “Animals are no longer torn apart just for fun” will be one response – and of course the opinion polls that show most people disapprove of hunting will be another. Anti-hunting groups have convinced themselves and many others that the use of dogs is always inherently cruel.
It’s a blinkered view that fails to properly understand precisely what the Conservative manifesto actually says. I know Lord Prescott sometimes has trouble with his words, so for his sake and others who haven’t read the document, let me repeat it: “We will grant a free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.”
In other words, an opportunity to examine how this law is working. It’s a chance to ask a crucial question at the very centre of the hunting debate: what has happened to foxes, and indeed other wildlife, since the Hunting Act came into force some 12 years ago? Surely, no one, if they are genuinely in favour of improving animal welfare, could possible oppose such a review, no matter which side of the hunting debate they happen to stand.
Yet, the frenzied reaction from anti-hunting groups has been one of total opposition to any re-examination, with demonstrations being organised to echo the ignorant comments of Lord Prescott.
The real irony here is that if wild animal welfare has indeed been improved, as we are constantly told, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of those opposed to hunting to present that evidence to parliament. Producing such information, regardless of the libertarian arguments and the many millions of pounds spent in support of this legislation, would effectively bring the whole debate to an end. So why won’t the anti-hunt groups do it?
The answer lies in what a friend and former colleague at the League Against Cruel Sports (and now a hunt master) told me the other day. He said that in his locality virtually all the foxes have been shot out.
The story is one that mirrors what happened shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, when tens of thousands of hares were shot on former hunting and coursing estates. The animal’s status had changed to one that was simply a target for gangs of poachers and so the easiest solution was to get rid of it. Harsh? Certainly, but that’s what happens when laws are based on prejudice or ignorance and with no consideration for the consequences.
The left like to use hunting as political weapon (even though hunting is known not to be a vote-changing issue), cynically exploiting the public’s understandable lack of knowledge of an activity that hardly touches their lives.
It is puzzling why some Conservatives play along with this game, although if they read the propaganda put out by the so-called Conservatives Against Fox Hunting (CAFH) and nothing else, it might explain their choice. The CAFH website says in response to Theresa May’s comments on fox hunting, “The party should instead be looking at improving standards for the tens of millions of farm animals by… installing CCTV in slaughterhouses. It would be a shame if we have to once again focus on this repeal issue – which is negative and nasty – when we could be putting all our energies into helping to advance farm animal welfare.”
They overlook the fact that just such a commitment, plus proposals on live exports and pet sales, is in the Conservative manifesto – important animal welfare measures, which the CAFH has helped the media overlook by concentrating on hunting.
The CAFH has strong links with the normally Labour-supporting League Against Cruel Sports, and their policies are virtually identical. The ‘founder’ of the group is a League committee member and the funding the CAFH remained a mystery until it was recently revealed to be a group that has given thousands of pounds to the Labour Party and others opposed to the Tory Party.
Just a few months ago Conservative Central Office demanded that all official party logos be removed from CAFH literature and website, emphasising that the group does not speak for the party. Many believe that the CAFH is just the League in a different guise.
Instead of putting out misleading propaganda, it would be helpful if the CAFH, the League, and all those opposed to hunting with dogs told us what they support, rather than what they dislike.
Do they accept any form of wildlife management? If so, what methods do they advocate? Do they understand that hunting doesn’t exist in isolation and that something else will take its place? Do they think the remaining methods are more humane? How do they square the support for ‘rewilding’ with their opposition to hunting? Why are the kills by the wolf and the lynx acceptable when a kill using dogs is unacceptable? What do they have to say about the hundreds of thousands of animals shot out as a direct result of the Hunting Act? Where is the scientific evidence that underpins a hunting ban?
Many people who oppose hunting have no idea about the difference between pest control and wildlife management – the latter being more about the health and limit of the wildlife population left alive, rather than the numbers killed. The selective ability of scenting hounds to find the quarry animal and the chase, the natural way of removing the old, weak, diseased and sick animals, fits perfectly into that process.
In addition, there is no chance of wounding, as the animal is either killed or escapes unscathed. Why would such a unique method be banned, other than through ignorance or prejudice?
The reason we don’t hear answers to these questions is that it’s easy for voices to be united against hunting, but much harder to agree on what takes its place. In short, Conservative candidates are being duped, and they would do well not to commit to any position if unsure about the facts, at least until there is a proper debate on the evidence presented.
The sole reason anti-hunting groups oppose the Conservative proposal to debate the future of the Hunting Act is because any proper scrutiny of their law is likely to show that a hunting ban is detrimental to wild animal welfare. But for others, like John Prescott, all this is irrelevant; if you think a fake fox can gain you votes, why worry about the real ones?