Friday, February 18, 2005

Hunting and me

I don't view myself as being opposed to hunting, however today's posts would certainly give that impression, so this post is to try and explain my position:

Before moving to Somerset in 1996, I hadn't lived in a hunting area, I can't even remember thinking about hunting. Then in the next year, I was in an area where hunting was an issue. In the 1997 election, our Labour candidate was asked by very many people where he said on hunting, he said he was opposed to it, and not having a settled view on the issue, I kind of settled into a default Labour opposition.

At the Young Labour Conference 1997, there was a workshop, it was called something like "Rights and Freedoms" we were in an eight or so, each had to defend a right. I can't remember whether I choose it or got it randomly, but I remember the gasp from the rest of the group when I got the card, "Defend the right to hunt foxes".

I didn't know the animal welfare issues one way or the other So I decided to defend the right in very Labour terms. I acknowledged that there was a balance of rights, between the right of hunters to exercise their hobby and the right of countryside dwellers not to have their land trepassed. I didn't touch on animal welfare at all, think I mentioned football and you wouldn't ban football just because of the actions of hooligans. What a lot of people don't realise is that there is significant opposition in rural areas to hunting, but I've never heard a rural dweller oppose hunting due to the cruelty, it's always the thuggish nature of some hunt followers that make them upset. By the end of my piece, I think I'd gained the respect of the others in the group and managed to shift my own views somewhat.

So what happened, well, what happened was partly me and partly the way the Countryside Alliance framed the debate. The Alliance from the very start, framed the debate as country vs town, as hunters vs Labour. They poured so much viterol on townies and Labour Party members and as I was both I felt they meant me. Now, some may say that there was a lot of muck thrown the other way, but the CA should still have reached out to those of us on the Labour side who were more or less undecided, instead with every action they pushed us into opposition.

The Countryside Alliance did pursue a policy of meeting individual MPs but in so doing missed out an important fact about the Labour Party, CLPs have more power over a sitting MP than Conservative Associations do. Even if the MP was persuaded, it would have been a brave MP to stand against a hostile CLP, especially in the hunting issue where there would have been no advantage politically to break ranks. The CA didn't help by not giving any credit to Labour MPs who did support them. There is no supportive comment about Kate Hoey anywhere on the CA site, and Alun Michael, someone who bent over backwards to thrash out a compromise, is usually labelled as "devious" on the CA site.

I was a CLP secretary for a while, on the Executive Committee for the rest of the time and never did the CA write to the CLP offering to talk with us? When there's a debate, but one side doesn't want to talk to you, then there's only one way the debate's going to go.

Even now, the hunt supporters are making enemies when they should be making friends. One of the CA slogans is Support Freedom, Support Tolerance. What tolerance have they ever shown to us?