Well, now we know the Conservatives will form the next government and it isn’t quite the result the public opinion polls predicted.
Who would have thought that in the space of just a few hours one party would have an overall majority – something all the political pundits refused to contemplate – and three party leaders would resign? Virtually all the polls were so out of step with the final result that the British Polling Council, a body consisting of polling firms, has announced it will conduct an inquiry into how they managed to get it so wrong.
Nor is it the outcome suggested by anti-hunting groups, who for years have claimed that being a pro-hunt candidate could seriously damage your election prospects. Even the saintly Brian May, through his attempts to put what he calls ‘common decency’ into politics, boasted, “No quarter shown for any attempted return to blood hunting; and an end to the cruel (and entirely ineffective) badger cull.” The last party political conference season saw a series of fringe meetings organised by anti-hunting groups arguing that very point. Since then, even up to this morning, there has been a tsunami of ‘tweets’ boasting how the Hunting Act will be strengthened.
This general election has proved them all wrong.
Look at the inner-London seat of Vauxhall, where Labour’s Kate Hoey increased her previous majority, despite being a former chair of the Countryside Alliance. Strange how hunting is supposedly opposed by 80% of the population, even amongst Conservative voters, and yet Simon Hart, a former Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, can still be elected also with an increased majority. In the face of numerous defeats for the Liberal Democrats, pro-hunting Mark Williams comfortably held onto his Ceredigion seat.
In any debate on hunting, or indeed the badger cull, public opinion poll figures are the main weapon used by anti groups, as if somehow this is all that’s required to bring about a new law or change of policy. Social media is another weapon in the armoury that was supposed to change everything, which no doubt is what Russell “don’t vote” Brand had in mind when he made his film plugging Ed Miliband. Interestingly, Mr Brand has stated he is now leaving politics, which will come as a surprise to many who never thought he was involved in the first place.
Often the people who express their views either on hunting or the badger cull have little or no experience of these issues. The LACS’ Director of Campaigns admitted on radio recently that he hasn’t even witnessed a hunt (or the alternatives) and yet he knows the activity must be banned.
How do you equate, for example, 340,000 signatories on an e-petition against the badger cull with, say, 500 farmers who have to live and deal with the scourge of bovine TB day after day?
Sometimes, depending on various factors, this tactic can work, most obviously in the relentless campaign to pass the Hunting Act, but inevitably it translates into a law or policy based on a false premise. No surprise then that a wide range of people, totally unconnected to hunting, have joined the ranks of critics of the Hunting Act.
Shortly before the 2010 general election the then chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports saw the Hunting Act as, “rock solid and working well” and said, “This is legislation which is clearly workable and effective and five years on it is time to send a clear message to politicians who wish to repeal that they must not go against the will of the vast majority of the public.”
Now in 2015, the LACS admits the Hunting Act is not so rock solid and calls for it to be strengthened.
But that’s not going to happen. In fact, rather than being toughened, this law looks to be doomed. The Conservative Party manifesto states, “We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.” It’s now for the Countryside Alliance and the other hunting bodies to ensure a vote takes place and is won, a job that should be easier if the Scottish National Party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, keeps to her promise that no SNP MP would vote in such a debate.
A few points on which to end.
The first is that repeal of the Hunting Act is not the end goal; taking hunting off the political agenda should be the aim. That can only be done by the introduction of a sensible wild mammals welfare law along the lines of the proposal by Labour’s Lord Donoughue, attracting those concerned about genuine cruelty to wildlife.
The second point is the need to properly explain wildlife management, its aims, its benefits and how hunting with hounds fits perfectly into that process, thereby paving the way for a genuine solution not only to the hunting question, but many wildlife issues.
Finally, be wary of those who shout loudly about things they don’t fully understand, whether they be pollsters, press or the prejudiced.