On Boxing Day, over a quarter of a million people turned out across the UK to support the last annual wildlife hunts before the general election. As sickening as this image may appear, political support for hunting will also do nothing to modernise the Conservative image, a problem which David Cameron really cannot afford.
We may be less than a fortnight into 2015, but the general election in May already seems certain to dominate the headlines for months to come. David Cameron has already been accused of misleading the electorate about the reality of the public expenditure he intends to dismantle, and this discourse seems likely to intensify as May beckons closer. These accusations of deception do nothing to aid the government on matters of attracting people to their plans for a shrunken state. The Conservative cuts are not looking popular and this is why the negative attention garnered from their latest manifesto instalment could be detrimental.
In the event of a Conservative majority next parliament, Tories pledge to have a free vote on reinstating legal hunting into the UK. The move aims to abolish the ban on fox-hunting as well as other wild animals, introduced by New Labour in 2004, which has criminalised hunting since February 2005. David Cameron is himself a keen supporter of the rural sport, having voiced his enthusiasm for his local, annual Heythrop Hunt before arriving at No.10. Whilst a repeal of the hunting ban was promised, and not managed, by the Conservatives in 2010, supporters of the Countryside Alliance organisation insist that action must be taken to replace or revoke current legislation if a Tory government emerges in May. Furthermore – and almost humourlessly at odds with his party’s anti-establishment, ‘party of the ordinary people’ ethos – UKIP leader Nigel Farage has also voiced his opposition to the hunting ban and it is likely his party will second a Conservative repeal of the act.
Of course, hunting is not inherently right-wing, but the politicisation of the class stereotypes which surround the traditions of hunting do stimulate tensions surrounding the government’s preservations of elitism. Whilst efforts to prioritise the legalisation of hunting is a heart-breaking threat to the welfare of British wildlife, these pledges also provide further fuel to the image of a Conservatives party concerned with championing the minority elite and remaining deeply out of touch with the consensus of the wider public – an image David Cameron has often been at pains to, and must continue to, challenge.
Whilst Ed Miliband may not always be quick to act upon his opportunities to win the upper hand in bids for public support, this time Labour have positioned themselves in firm opposition to the reintroduction of legal hunting, having written to both David Cameron and Nigel Farage asking for a commitment to preserving the Hunting Act. Statistics which approximate public support for the ban at 80% suggest Labour’s actions could have positive consequences amidst the unpredictability of the election polls. It seems fair to presume that standing in opposition to the views of four fifths of the electorate and instead boosting support from figures such as Jeremy Clarkson will not help Cameron in the popularity contests.
Organisers of the long established Cattistock Hunt have proven themselves deeply removed from the reality of public perception. When threatened with legal action by the RSPCA, they stated: ‘The lunatics are running the asylum. The RSPCA has become indoctrinated in an animal-rights philosophy, and that is its downfall. The charity is a massive institution… few with experience of running a business, and some who are, frankly, staunch animal-rights activists.’ Last week, a Daily Mail news article reported that The RSPCA were using donations made to the charity in order to fund the legal proceedings they have taken against fraternities such as Cattistock. Imagine: an animal rights charity run by people impassioned by animal rights and using donations made from other animal rights supporters in order to legally defend animal rights; by golly, the audacity!
We are a nation deeply rooted in establishment. Whether it be the fight for gay marriage, the challenging of everyday sexism or blatant political bias from the BBC, ‘tradition’ is a word often employed to justify the conservation of our regressive society. The foundations paved by eras gone by still, in many ways, hold out-dated practises in place. Hunting is but one example.
There is irony, therefore, in the neo-liberal, Tory voting, champions of meritocracy who frequently deny the existence of class barriers and societal structures, now declaring themselves victim of Britain’s long embedded class-war. When cuts to public spending hit the poorest and most vulnerable, claims of class inequality are taboo. However, mock or challenge the image of public school jockeys in equestrian dress and velvet blazers setting off to torture and mutilate wild animals, and you may find yourself accused of ignorant class discrimination.
Personally, I doubt cries of elitist victimisation will acquire much sympathy. Those who oppose hunting do so because of the shear horrific and unnecessary violence it inflicts upon our wildlife. We are also the majority and, therefore, political parties would do well to listen to us. Election year is not a time to ignore the voice of the electorate.
Originally published in Qmunicate magazine, 9th January 2015