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Archive for May, 2017

The hunt for votes

It’s a sure sign Prime Minister Theresa May runs a very tight office that no one leaked the announcement of a general election. It seemed to catch everyone by surprise, not least the anti-hunting groups who normally have time to prepare the ground for their campaigns by a series of predictable steps.

The pattern is a familiar one. Firstly, these groups commission public opinion polls on hunting, complete with loaded questions, for example linking repeal of the Hunting Act to the legalising of badger baiting and dog fighting. This ensures they get the desired answers. Secondly, the results are given to the media implying that this is an issue so uppermost in peoples’ minds that it is highly likely to influence how they vote. Thirdly, on the back of this ‘solid evidence’ of public feeling, the next tactic is to get a question in quick to the candidates, again usually framed in highly emotive terms such as how do they feel about “killing for fun”?; is it right to “terrorise and rip apart wild animals”?; aren’t there more important issues than “bringing back hunting”? Unsurprisingly, those candidates unfamiliar with hunting and shooting sometimes give the answers the antis want.

Finally, once this happens, the candidate’s response is publicised, in effect ‘nailing their colours to the mast’ and, regardless of information that subsequently shows they have been duped, being seen to change your mind appears to be a sign of weakness and so initial positions and statements on hunting tend not to alter. For those who don’t give the compliant answers sought by the antis, their offices will be bombarded with e-mails and their names dragged through the social media mire – a threat no parliamentary new boy or girl wants to face – even though those threatening not to vote for them could well live outside the constituency or even in another country.

Briefly, this is what we’re going to see over the next few weeks, so it would be worthwhile reminding candidates that they can either play along with this silly game or they can look at the facts, both in terms of the issues involved and the totally fatuous claim that hunting plays a part in choosing the next government.

The LACS’ poll that implies repeal of the Hunting Act legalises dog fighting and badger baiting.

Clearly, anti-hunting groups are worried about this election, given Theresa May’s comments in support of foxhunting and the likely return of a Conservative government with a strong majority. It provides a real opportunity to address the idiocy of the Hunting Act… and this time even those anti pals in the Scottish National Party may not have sufficient numbers to interfere with a vote that has nothing to do with Scotland, despite a call for them to interfere once more. I suppose that will depend on how much money is on offer.

Another reason for the antis to be concerned is that their ‘Conservatives against Foxhunting’ ploy has been exposed as a fraud at this most sensitive time. The organiser of the group is a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports – a body that for decades has openly supported (including financially) the Labour Party. Following an investigation into the group by Conservative Central Office, the CAFH was told to withdraw the use of the Conservative Party logo and recently had to reveal that funds have been received from other Labour-donating groups. Now a prominent member has defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Any genuine Conservative should think very carefully about supporting this group and anyone who is genuinely concerned about wildlife should also be wary of listening to some of the propaganda spouted by anti-hunting groups too. In recent radio debates prompted by Theresa May’s comments, we learned from a representative from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that NO wild animal population needs to be controlled, as they will all control their own numbers. Is there even one conservation or farming organisation that would agree with this view?

The League Against Cruel Sports leans this way too, when in another debate its CEO stated that foxes take very few lambs and that poor husbandry is the real culprit. He forgets to inform the listeners that the extent of fox damage is against existing widespread control by various methods. The only possible way in which that claim could be justified is if every single form of fox control across the country were to be suspended for a year, or possibly even longer, to enable a proper scientific study to be undertaken.

And what about those public opinion polls? Well, while the most recent YouGov poll still shows a majority against bringing hunting back onto the political agenda (67%) – that is a far lower figure than those used by anti hunt groups, so perhaps people are slowly realising that the Hunting Act has done no good whatsoever for animal welfare.

Part of the problem is that even the respectable end of the media spectrum sometimes gets it wrong. Here’s what Clare Foges in The Times says about the opportunity to look again at the ridiculous Hunting Act, “Mrs May can talk all she likes about working people; she can throw the arms of government around the “just about managing” classes and work hard to alleviate poverty — but if a free vote leads to the repeal of the foxhunting ban, and wall-to-wall news pictures of hunters anticipating the disembowelment of a fox with a swig of port from the stirrup cup, the ambition of restoring the Conservatives’ reputation as a party for the many will be truly sunk.” If the writer really believes that people will change their vote on an issue that is so removed from most people’s lives, she really should seek help. She says she’s not a class warrior, but does a fairly good impersonation. Far more relevant is a ORB poll produced a few years back asking what issues influence voting intentions; from a total of a 1509 people, four mentioned hunting with dogs.

Facts and figures always appear to be a little flexible during a general election, so it’s worth reminding everyone of a few facts that we know are absolutely irrefutable.

1. The Hunting Act was claimed to be a watershed in the way we treat animals, yet since 2004 RSPCA cruelty figures have risen year on year.
2. The Hunting Act was claimed to be good law, but because it doesn’t work as intended, antis blame everyone else and now want it strengthened.
3. The Hunting Act was claimed to be simple. LACS said in 1996, “Within a couple of months it would all be over and everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about.” Yet 12 years after the Hunting Act came into force, the hunting debate remains unresolved.

The Hunting Act has not improved animal welfare. Those opposed to hunting are reluctant to have the detrimental consequences examined.

Why should anyone believe anti hunt groups now when they make claims about voting intentions?

The commitment from the Conservatives to revisit the Hunting Act is absolutely the right thing to do, especially as no anti-hunting group has spent even a penny on assessing what effect this law has had on wildlife. One ominous indication came from a former LACS colleague of mine who is now a hunt master. He informed me that in one area near to him virtually every fox has been shot out; so much for this legislation ‘saving lives’ as is so often claimed.

There is one simple and obvious test to see if any of the political assertions made by the LACS, CAFH or any other anti-hunting group are true. If the anti-hunting polls are correct and if most people are indeed opposed to hunting with dogs and if it is an issue on which they are willing to make their choice at this election, then the result is a foregone conclusion – the Conservatives will not form the next government.

But if the Conservatives do win, doesn’t that prove once and for all that the antis’ claims about widespread support for the hunting ban, and the more exaggerated articles in the media, are just meaningless nonsense?

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