Most weeks there is a demonstration of some sort in Parliament Square. I can hear the noise from my office and occasionally read the odd banner or two. Some are confusing, occasionally amusing, often serious, but always important to the supporters. Most make me think a bit about the cause being championed.
But each one reminds me of the time when it was me out there. Me and thousands of others trying in the only way we could to attract the attention of the then Labour Government and divert it from its hostile attack on the countryside and hunting in particular. Here in London we marched in record numbers, but few remember that we did the same in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Exeter, Norwich, Birmingham, Brighton and Bournemouth. Such was the indignation and anger that our supporters stripped off in Smith Square, fought off the Met outside my window here at St Stephens and some even penetrated the epicentre of democracy itself – the Commons chamber. This was an enraged ‘middle England’ as we had never seen it.
People often ask me why such a peculiar activity as hunting attracts such passion. After all, not that many people do it; it doesn’t constitute the most pressing issue facing the country and it has its detractors. So why don’t hunting supporters just accept the passage of time and reinvent themselves in some other more cosmopolitan guise?
If only it were so simple. Hunting then, as it did 200 years prior, and certainly ten years since the so-called ban, is totemic. To supporters it is our world and our life. It connects us with people and places like nothing else can. It uniquely exposes us to danger, thrills, spills, camaraderie and community. Believe me, I have lived that life. To its enemies it is an anachronism. The evils of class, wealth and privilege and (infrequently) a concern for animal welfare combined to generate more heat than light when it came to the debate that preceded the 2005 Hunting Act – passed over 80 years after the first attempt.
So ten years on from the day the Bill passed I’m not at all surprised that those passions still burn. Nor that hunts have found a way to wriggle around the multitude of flaws that I now know attach themselves to all sorts of legislation we pass here in Parliament. Totemic issues generate a very special level of attachment to those for whom they are important. Repeal is still on the political agenda for the Conservatives and others, whereas Labour still (confusingly) believe that their core vote is motivated by an ongoing hostility to rural affairs.
Hunting thrives, but the law needs changing. For the sake of Parliament whose reputation suffered thanks to this saga; for the sake of supporters, for whom this Act represented the ultimate act of prejudice, and for the sake of animal welfare which has not benefited a jot.
Someone once said to me that for supporters of hunting no explanation was necessary, and for opponents none was possible. We record the tenth anniversary of the Hunting Act in the knowledge that nothing has really changed.
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