The fieldsports vote has never been more crucial. Jonathan Young discusses who to vote for in the General Election.
Where do we put our cross if we are voting for fieldsports? Editor, Jonathan Young, gives his verdict on who will heed the rural fieldsports vote, and save British wildlife too.
It must be soothing to be a MAMIL, that happy breed of middle-aged men in Lycra. You climb on to a bike and pedal through the lanes without a thought of your so-called democratic government threatening to ban your sport.
I mentioned this to a Conservative city councillor who, catching my drift, explained to me, with studied patience, that there were no votes in hunting and what’s more he couldn’t understand the need to cull badgers. When I tried to explain the liberty and conservation issues involved, he cut me short: “It’s the urban vote we’ve got to worry about, not the fieldsports one.”
Given we were dining in a rural constituency, his remarks were typical of the arrogance and stupidity that have made so many politicians rival journalists for the title of most hated profession. And yet, come 7 May, we have to put our cross somewhere, so where?
VOTING FOR FIELDSPORTS
Fieldsports should not be the natural preserve of Tory supporters any more than cycling should be a true-blue pastime. Believing in some or all of the tenets of socialism should not disbar any of us from following a hound, working a gundog, playing a trout or decoying a pigeon. And yet Labour’s Angela Smith, the shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, can say, “I need to make it clear that we have no intention of including anything in our manifesto that would suggest that we would ban shooting as a sport. We recognise it is a legitimate recreational activity.” This has been seized upon as support for our sport but it’s quite an odd statement. Go back to our MAMIL, pedalling quietly down the lanes. How would he view a party whose best shot at gaining his support is,“we’re not going to ban what you do”?
Labour has form when it comes to fieldsports. Having introduced the Hunting Act 10 years ago, its 2015 manifesto pledges to protect it against a possible Tory repeal, “because we believe that causing defenceless animals to suffer in the name of sport has no place in a civilised society”. And while Mrs Smith might do her best to allay concerns about shooting, her immediate boss, Maria Eagle, promises, “Labour will tackle wildlife crime and reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates. More needs to be done to protect animal welfare on shooting estates. The next Labour government will undertake an independent review into the most effective way to end the illegal persecution of birds of prey, such as the hen harrier; prevent non-target animals getting trapped in snares; and ensure the humane treatment of gamebirds.” Which makes one wonder what, exactly, is the non-humane treatment of gamebirds that needs attention.
So, for the sake of fieldsports, do we need to vote Conservative? At one stage it seemed UKIP might be equally supportive, giving voters a third option when both the major parties’ candidates are anti-fieldsports (28 Tory MPs condemn hunting according to the group Conser-vatives Against Fox Hunting).
Nigel Farage visited the Game Fair in 2014 and said last Boxing Day, “The decision on the matter should be made at a local level, by the British public.” Stuart Agnew, MEP and UKIP’s spokesman for agriculture, reinforces this view but warns Field readers (Mat issue) that “many urban UKIP candidates, if they became MPs, would be against hunting foxes for sport, just like urban MPs of other parties”.
Of the other parties wooing our votes, anyone with progeny over 18 and somewhat starry eyed should warn them off voting for the Greens, whose stated policy is to “extend the 1911 Protection of Animals Act to protect both captive and non-captive animals from unnecessary suffering. This will be used to prohibit hunting with hounds, shooting, snaring, coursing and various other abuses of our animal population.” And, in case we were in any doubt, it promises to “amend the Firearms Act to prohibit the use and private ownership of firearms”.
The Liberal Democrats are less rabid, of course, but they blocked the attempt by the Prime Minister in 2014 to relax the hunting law to allow a pack of hounds in England and Wales to flush a fox.
So, are the Conservatives the party that truly supports fieldsports? David Cameron wrote this month: “There is definitely a rural way of life which a born-and- bred Londoner might struggle to understand. I have always been a strong supporter of country sports. It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government. The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government Bill in government time.”
He made the same promise at the last election, a promise that didn’t materialise. But the mathematics did not work then. They might this time round. It could be argued that national life is too important to be decided by the single issue of fieldsports but we’re not in the happy position of our Lycra-clad cyclists; politicians have chosen to play with our way of life in order to throw electoral sweeties to an urban public. The parties, between them, have left us with only one voting choice and it’s blue.