Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Hunting enthusiasts rally behind Conservative candidates
Hunt supporters are threatening to flood up to 140 key marginal constituencies as soon as the date for the general election is announced in an effort to get those sympathetic to their views elected to parliament. The plan will mainly benefit the Conservatives, who are the only party to have pledged a repeal of the Hunting Act introduced by Labour five years ago.
The plan is the work of pressure group Vote-OK, an organisation described by one member as akin to a "rural dating agency" that puts hunts and other countryside pressure groups in touch with political parties in marginal seats. It plans to wreak revenge on the mainly Labour MPs who helped pass the original ban by urging its supporters to "do everything in their power" to help opposition candidates.
But reaction from the Tories has not been quite as enthusiastic as their fox-hunting supporters might have wished; one Conservative candidate in Gloucester wrote a letter acknowledging his local hunt association's offer of help but warned of the dangers of "cantering into town in pink chinos and Barbours" and the damage that it might cause his campaign.
And damage it it might. Since the ban came into force opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of public opinion is firmly against any repeal, and the association of hunting with Conservatives in marginals may well swing undecided voters towards less bloodthirsty opponents. It may also inadvertently help expose the Tory pledge to scrap the act which the party have done so much to keep quiet.
The hunting lobby, for their part, know that a Tory government is probably their last chance to reintroduce blood sports to the rural scene; it seems unlikely that the neat trick of promoting their opposition to a ban as an assault on the countryside in general would work a second time round.
Local Leeds MP Hilary Benn has been at the forefront of the 'Back the Ban' campaign which seeks to expose this dubious link-up; similarly the League Against Cruel Sports has stepped up its own efforts to increase public awareness of the Vote-OK plans. The Conservatives want the support of the hunting community without the public relations disaster that such patronage might bring with it; it is right and proper that plans to reintroduce legitimised animal cruelty at the behest of a small but influential minority are not done so whilst attention is focused elsewhere.