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December 22, 2004

Hunting Life - The Tails Wag the Dog

Posted by Jorocs

The countryside is in turmoil and disbelief - at least that part of it which is involved in fox hunting. This was further highlighted this week when our local pack was invited to a neighbouring ancestral seat to celebrate the huntsman's fifty years of hunting hounds.

Although past pensionable age, he hunted his hounds with flair and distinction, providing what was for many the best day's hunting they had ever seen or experienced. At the end of the day, he stood in the servants' hall acknowledging the handshakes and the plaudits from the good, the great and the humble. When asked for his comment on the day, his smiley crinkly face lit up and he said, "I'm so pleased for my hounds".

I once had the temerity to criticise the ability of his hounds and was roundly told by the edge of his tongue that I may criticise his abilities or his parentage with impunity but in no way must I ever question the ability of his hounds. This demonstrated the pride, affection and trust he has for his pack of hounds which he has spent his lifetime breeding and preparing, but now the sword of Damocles has fallen on their future and the future of the countryside as we know it. So what happens next? How can it be legal to hunt on the eighteenth and not on the nineteenth of February?

I remember fifty years ago, my great uncle, being unable to accept that he should only eat fish this Friday but could eat meat the following Friday (after the Pope made changes to the Catholic Church). My uncle continued to eat fish on Friday for the rest of his life.

I recall stories of how, when retreating in France during the Great War, this same uncle came across a farmyard of cows. The cows' udders were bursting with milk owing to the fact that they had not been milked for several days. Although under fire, his belief as a countryman in what was right, led him to halt and hand milk the cows before going on his way.

This same resolute attitude that he displayed exists in the country folk today as they refuse to accept the inevitable ban on hunting; they have a staunch belief in what is right and what is wrong and what has to be done. Be it the Member of the House of Lords galloping up to the hedge on his horse, the farmer with the dead animal on the floor who depends upon the hunt to collect it, or the O.A.P on his twice-weekly trip in his car, with his thermos and his sandwiches, gazing into the countryside with his friends, following the hounds.

If Tony Blair wanted to abolish fox hunting he should have, and could have, done it at the start of his tenure. But instead the hunting community has fought long and hard for seven years, and won every time, but now they appear to have lost.

The attack on hunting at the start of Mr Blair's office came after the hunting community had spent twenty years keeping their head down believing all publicity was bad publicity. They fast had to learn their skills of handling the media and presenting an acceptable face to the general public. Cut glass accents cut no ice. Having continually managed to thwart and defeat Mr. Blair's quest, when the axe finally fell, their heads told them the truth but their hearts wouldn't believe it.

Currently, although many have made protestations of civil disobedience, the vast majority accept that the future must be in holding the line steady for at least the next few months, to see the results of the challenge to the use of the Parliament Act. For the moment, if we are going to succeed by the law, then we must live by the law - but also fight by the law.

It is now widely accepted that the Hunting Act is a totemic dying gasp of old left-wing Labour and it is readily admitted by many in the Labour Party that this is getting one back at the land owning classes. I pondered this as I galloped towards a hedge with the peer on my left who doesn't even own a house, a plumber on my right who does own his house and me in the middle with my house which I share with my bank manager. And it is true, hunting is a great leveller, as we all three find ourselves on the floor, the other side of the hedge, minus our horses. Hunting people are always keen to highlight the mix of classes who go hunting with tedious boredom. But it has never been more true than today.

But what of the future? We must hold the line steady; we must listen to the leadership that has got us thus far. It would appear we are in the ring with an opponent who does not relish the prospect with a fight, who does not wish to lose or win. Never before has it been so highlighted as what will happen when the Backbenchers rather than the Cabinet run the country.

Jorocs will be writing regularly about hunting life for the Social Affairs Unit. To read more by Jorocs, see Hunting.

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I am pleased to see that the Social Affairs Unit now has a hunting correspondent - theatre, opera, galleries, hunting - what more can you ask for.

Posted by: Jamie at December 23, 2004 01:12 PM

I still think they need a computer games correspondent. Surveying the world of digital from a conservative point of view would be a surprisingly fruitful endeavour....

Posted by: James McQueen at December 24, 2004 04:15 PM
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