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The Essex Foxhounds in 1994. Photo: League Against Cruel Sports.
The Essex Foxhounds in 1994. Photo: League Against Cruel Sports.
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Tell Mrs May: Foxhunting must remain illegal!

Eduardo Gonçalves

18th May 2017

It's election time and the race is on for public support, writes Eduardo Goncalves. So why on Earth did Tory leader Theresa May come out in favour of foxhunting - an activity loathed or disliked by over 80% of voters - at this crucial time, offering MPs a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act? Now let's put pressure on our candidates to keep the law against this cruel, archaic pastime.

Hunting is not just about opinion polls - it's about cruelty to animals for 'fun'. Politicians should listen to their constituents, and they should also think about what kind of Britain they want to live in.

Election time is all about popularity and opinion polls. A mere increase of a couple of percentage points from one party or another can send candidates and the media into raptures.

So does it make sense that an issue on which around 8 out of 10 people in the country are agreed is being discussed once more?

Speaking on an ITV Facebook Live event his week, Theresa May sought to justify her decision to give MPs a vote on repealing the 2004 Hunting Act:

"I have always supported fox hunting, but clearly I'm not saying I'm going to bring it back. What I'm saying is we will have a free vote in Parliament so MPs will be able to make up their own mind on this issue.

"Some of the other forms of dealing with foxes can be cruel, so my view is it should be a free vote for Parliament so members of parliament individually should be able to exercise their view on this matter."

The Hunting Act 2004 banned the chasing and/or killing of wild mammals with dogs. The law has often been discussed by those who wish to repeal it, but meanwhile public support for the Act has increased.

Respected pollsters IPSOS-Mori have carried out an annual survey asking people if they want the various forms of hunting to remain illegal for several years. The questions are unbiased, and they are asked every year, so accuracy is as good as it can get.

In the latest poll (2016), 84% of people in England and Wales said they want the ban on hunting foxes to stay. In addition, 88% want to keep the ban on stag hunting and 91% want to keep the ban on hare hunting and hare coursing.

In political terms, these are crazy numbers! Brexit was won with 52%.

Rural vs Urban?

I've mentioned these figures in interviews before and people will often say 'ah, but these are urbanites, not people from the countryside'. Sorry - the percentage of people in rural areas who want to keep the ban on fox hunting is 82%. That's a massive vote from the people who live in the countryside, understand the countryside, and know what hunting really is.

If fox hunting is really seen as a worthwhile or necessary pursuit, then surely there would be some constituencies, perhaps in strong hunting areas, where the majority of people wanted to bring back legal fox hunting?

We asked that question to Ipsos Mori and they carefully worked out projections of the polling for every constituency in England and Wales. The result? It's estimated that the majority of people in every constituency want fox hunting to remain illegal. No less than 7 out of 10 people in any constituency want it to remain illegal.

We could cheekily point out that, based on these polls, support for keeping fox hunting illegal in Theresa May's constituency is projected to be 80%. Other party leaders are available (and have similar results).

So there lies the rub.

Don't let the burglars abolish the theft laws

Here's a policy which is supported by the vast majority of the British public. Yet Theresa May's announcement last week suggests that the Hunting Act will once again be under threat. Where would the political benefit be?

An analogy might help. I'm sure somewhere there is a covert group of burglars (the Broken Window Alliance?) who sit around bemoaning that their favourite hobby - stealing things - is illegal. If only the law could be repealed; if only they knew enough people in influential positions to make that happen.

Luckily, they don't have that influence. But the covert group of hunting fans who bemoan the fact that their favourite hobby - chasing and killing animals - is illegal, do have that influence. They have the influence in high places. In fact they have enough influence that governments will listen.

I'm sure there's plenty of 'you rub my back and I'll rub yours' going on in and around Westminster. And when that happens, it can mean that the will of the people is disregarded - however high the polling figures.

There's another side to this whole discussion that shouldn't be forgotten. Hunting is not just about opinion polls - it's about cruelty to animals for 'fun'. Politicians should listen to their constituents, and they should also think about what kind of Britain they want to live in.

Most people recognise that bull fighting and trophy hunting are cruel, unnecessary and outdated, and we berate those countries that allow it; yet we are discussing the return of hunting to modern Britain. The League also campaigns on dog fighting, and I've never found anyone prepared to say dog fighting is a 'good thing'. Dog fighting dog, or dog attacking fox? What's the difference?

Fox control argument is a ruse

There are still some people - apparently including May herself - who have been bamboozled into thinking that fox hunting is necessary for 'fox control'. Whether fox control is necessary is a separate argument, but we can produce a lot of evidence to say it isn't - and that lethal control can actually lead to more problems than existed before.

But fox hunting is absolutely nothing to do with 'fox control'. That argument is a ruse. The reality is that fox hunts actually capture and raise foxes so they always have foxes to chase. That's a bit like a pest controller sneaking into your garden at night and putting a rat up your drainpipe, then coming round the next day to see if you've got a rat problem he can deal with.

We are left with a minority of influential people who are miffed that their hobby of killing things for fun has been made illegal. And we have a massive majority of people in this country who want it to remain illegal.

Through the League's Votes for Vinny campaign, we aim to ask every candidate in the country what their views are on legalising hunting, as well as their views on increasing sentences for animal cruelty.

We hope that whatever party they are standing for, they will understand that hunting is nothing but a cruel sport that does not deserve to be legal in modern Britain.

And if they don't understand that, then I hope they will understand that a pro-hunt stance will alienate an awful lot of voters.

 


 

Eduardo Gonçalves is the Chief Executive Officer of League Against Cruel Sports.

Action: Vote for Vinny to tell your local candidates that you want hunting to remain illegal, and you want to increase sentences for animal cruelty.

 

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