Archive for March, 2015

Keeping it simple

I know I’ve used it before, but the quotation by American writer Henry L. Mencken is well worth repeating; For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

With a general election only a few weeks away and with the outcome less predictable than anyone can remember, simplicity seems to be the order of the day. For some, short one liners that are designed to stick in the mind of the public, rather than detailed arguments reflecting the complexity of many issues, are the way to go.

There were some excellent examples of this tactic being employed in these final few days of this parliament. MPs are being bombarded with e-mails wanting to know how they would vote on a variety of animal welfare matters, all designed to give the impression that the answer may mean success or failure at election time. The reality is that the next government will not be chosen on how good or bad it appears to be on animal issues.

Despite this, it’s quite depressing how many people involved in welfare groups, and indeed those who should know better, still reduce their arguments down to the lowest level. Maybe they feel the public can only take in a certain amount of information or maybe it’s because they know that issues not directly affecting most members of the public can be portrayed in a totally untruthful manner if that means achieving a desired outcome. It’s probably a mixture of both.

But difficulties come, as Mencken rightly says, when complex issues are addressed by simplistic measures. For all the nonsense spoken about hunting being nothing more than ‘killing for fun’ and the ludicrous claims that the Hunting Act is good law, the fact is there has only been a handful of hunts successfully prosecuted and some of those were for technical, not animal welfare, offences. Numerous attempts by the anti-hunting groups to prosecute hunt staff have often failed at the last moment, resulting in months of anxious waiting by the individuals accused, wasting many thousands of pounds in the process and with this cost often being borne by the taxpayer. The latest case against the Cattistock Hunt, brought by the RSPCA and based on “evidence” supplied by IFAW, failed just this week. The full costs are unknown at present.

The whole situation is a mess. The Hunting Act is claimed to be good legislation, which is an odd statement given that its supporters now want to see it strengthened. Self-appointed people who ‘monitor’ hunts see breaches of this flawed law at every turn, consequently wasting police, CPS and court time and even more money trying to bring prosecutions.

It’s such a ridiculous piece of legislation that even those MPs who oppose hunting find it hard to remember what it actually does. Here’s what Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said to Environment secretary Liz Truss last week in the House of Commons, “Instead of proposing yet more cruelty to animals, why will she not look at extending the Act to grouse shooting and hare coursing, which also are cruel and hugely opposed in this country?” Organised hare coursing was banned by the Hunting Act in 2004.

If MPs don’t understand hunting (or indeed even the legislation they passed!) it’s no wonder they have to portray it in simplistic and untruthful terms. The distaste some people, including parliamentarians, have for hunting appears to know no bounds. At the last general election, I attended a meeting for all candidates in the Kate Hoey’s constituency of Vauxhall. Kate was the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance at the time and an anti-hunt candidate had decided to stand against her. In a wide range of questions put to all the candidates, our anti friend managed to twist his answers into blaming hunting for all that is wrong with the world, even to the point of claiming that climate change is caused by hunting people diving around in powerful 4×4 vehicles. He didn’t win and Kate’s majority rose.

Such blinkered views are not always prevented from entering parliament. Chris Williamson is the MP for Derby North and a committee member of the League Against Cruel Sports. He’s someone I’ve known and worked with for many years in LACS and while our paths took us in different directions regarding the hunting issue, I expected his argument in respect of bovine TB and the badger cull to be slightly less blinkered. I shouldn’t have been so naïve.

According to Chris, the badger cull has nothing to do with curbing bovine TB, but has everything to do with people who just want to cause “unnecessary suffering” – his words, not mine – to badgers. He argues that the whole culling process has not worked and has been enthusiastically sanctioned by hunt supporters in the government. Quite what fun might be had by these blood-lusting government ministers when a marksman many miles away shoots a badger at night was not explained, but obviously someone somewhere was delighted at the prospect of an animal dying in pain. At least that was the reason in Chris’ mind.

Once again, we see a complex and difficult situation reduced down to a level that that not only dismisses the seriousness of this disease, but denigrates those involved in tackling it. In fact, it is not true to say that the badger culls have not worked, but more on that in a later blog.

The one thing that antis seem to have learned very well is “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”…and I think most people know who said that.

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The fundamentalists

The appalling attacks at the Tedworth Hunt last month reminded the world that, despite the Hunting Act being law for 10 years, a few hunt saboteurs are still around. The violence meted out by them to hunt supporters, in particular the Joint Master Michael Lane who suffered concussion and teeth knocked out after being kicked in the head, was caught on camera and police are currently investigating the incident.

Masked hunt saboteurs attack member of the Tedworth Hunt

Masked hunt saboteurs attack members of the Tedworth Hunt

It raises questions in a wider context, the first being what is the motivation to become a hunt saboteur? I used to be one back in the 1970s when I opposed hunting and I’m still very clear as to what encouraged me at the time to take part in an activity that sought to prevent an animal from being hunted. I had recently joined the League Against Cruel Sports and it seemed like a natural step to join the ‘sabs’, given that the LACS wasn’t too active in those days and hunt sabotage appeared to be the best way to achieve some kind of success.

However, the aim then was to genuinely sabotage a hunt – that is to cover the trail of the hunted animal, put the hounds off its scent and hopefully not get caught doing it. Confrontations with the hunt would be kept to a minimum or simply not happen at all. That all changed in the 80s, with attitudes within the hunt saboteurs becoming more aligned to the punk era, which was emerging at the time. It brought with it the anarchist element that has stayed with many hunt saboteurs right up to the present day.

Just as some people join the political campaign against hunting for their own misguided party political reasons, others will be attracted to the more confrontational aspects of hunt sabotage. You can see the thinking; if these hunting people are all rich toffs – basically seen in the same category as despised bankers – and they’re killing animals for fun, they are the perfect target. There’s little difference between the ‘Stop the City’ and ‘Occupy’ campaigns and sabotaging a hunt, as those on the sharp end are all perceived to be the same people. The only difference is that on a hunt you can physically confront your enemy. The campaign against the badger cull has undoubtedly had a spin-off effect in reinvigorating hunt saboteurs, given that many of the ‘protesters’ were not protesting at all, but attempting to sabotage the process.

This isn’t to say that those involved don’t care about animals – some do, some don’t. Many people in the anti-hunt campaigns are concerned about how animals are treated, but fail to properly understand hunting, the consequences of a ban and the wider picture of wildlife management. They get drawn into campaigns that are portrayed in simple ‘black and white’ terms and tend to believe their own propaganda because that’s what they want to believe. But it also can’t be denied that others join for darker reasons.

The grave of Huntsman John Peel was desecrated, as was the grave of the 10th Duke of Beaufort

The grave of Huntsman John Peel was desecrated, as was the grave of the 10th Duke of Beaufort

There’s a point worth noting here, though one that does not necessarily apply to all animal rights supporters. It is the view held by some that they are absolutely right in their thinking and, as such, whatever they do or say is always justified. It means that abusive language, threats and intimidation are all par for the course, in particular via social media. Damage, theft and sometimes violence are all acceptable if done ‘in the name of the animals’. It means that even desecrating graves is legitimate if the deceased or their relatives have a link to what the activists see as animal abuse. Following the tragic death of hunt supporter Trevor Morse in 2009, when he was decapitated by an anti-hunt activist’s gyrocopter, a hunt saboteurs’ website carried this comment, “This man got all he deserved pity a few more were not killed.” A comment on a national newspaper’s website covering the story about Mike Lane’s attack could hardly be regarded one stemming from compassion –“Good job! I hope he dies.”

This is a form of fundamentalism that has a parallel with the acts of terrorism which have sadly become common on our TV screens and as such shares basic similarities. The covered faces, the anonymous social media comments and threats, on occasion even the black dress code. But more worryingly is the absolute blind faith in their ‘cause’ and any hint of questioning that belief is regarded as something akin to blasphemy.

Recently, the BBC Countryfile programme covered the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force. While many anti-hunt groups and their supporting politicians like to pretend that this matter is over, the fact is the issue is as alive as it ever was and no doubt will continue to be so until a sensible resolution is reached. Yet the producers of this programme were condemned for even contemplating addressing such an item, let alone inviting the hunting world to take part. Such is the blinkered, bigoted view of the obsessive anti-hunt activist.

Advice or a threat?   A response to the  Countryfile programme on hunting on a BBC website

Advice or a threat?  A response posted on a BBC  website regarding the Countryfile episode on hunting

See the comparison here with other groups that feels they have the exclusive right to say what can and can’t be published? While obviously not creating the same degree of mayhem, pain and destruction, the intolerance of these obsessive antis is really no different to that of the fanatical terrorist.

One gratifying point is this; a few weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited to give a presentation on wildlife management and hunting on behalf of the Countryside Alliance at the Royal Veterinary College, where my fellow speaker was Chris House, Chairman of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. A few days later, I gave a similar talk at a college specialising in animal care. If any aspect of the pro-hunting case being made was incorrect or flawed, these would have been the very first people to highlight it, yet not one person did. The response at both events was very positive.

So, are we to believe the angry ranting of individuals who claim to care for animals and who try to shut down any genuine debate, while some in their ranks resort to insults, abuse or even physically attacks on those who hold different views? Or should we take a lead from people who have dedicated their lives to animals and their welfare and are prepared to listen to the argument?



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