Who wants to fight for a land fit for foxes?
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
To paraphrase Mr Blair’s thoughts on a rather bigger issue: if we want to live in a free country, we must be prepared to let the fox population pay ‘the blood price’.
It will strike many as absurd that the Government is this week holding an unprecedented three-day hearing at Westminster into whether or not hunting foxes with hounds is necessary or cruel. Everybody from theologians and ecologists to huntsmen and professors of animal husbandry is to have their say about the burning issue of the day: how to control vermin in the countryside.
Trivial as it may seem in the week of 11 September, however, the hunting debate does matter. It confirms that, whatever the international situation, we appear to be beating a retreat from the standards of a free and democratic society on the home front. Never mind all the infantile anthropomorphism about how animals feel that will be bleated at this week’s hearings. Labour MPs and the powerful anti-hunt lobby are not really concerned about the fox. Most accept that some form of control of foxes will continue. What they will not put up with, however, is a lack of control over other people.
Theirs is a campaign against the mores and ways of the hunting communities, one ‘lifestyle choice’ that they find unacceptable. When they say ‘Ban hunting’, they mean ‘Stop living like that’. Many are not so much cuddly animal-lovers as grim mock-Puritans, who appear to hate hunting with hounds largely because others have such fun doing it.
It seems we have reached the limits of the tolerant, diverse society that our leaders were to champion after September 11. The vitriol poured out in the hunting debate reveals ours as an age of intolerant tolerance, of illiberal liberalism. The question we ought to ask is not whether we are prepared to see foxes hunted, but whether we will tolerate people being hounded for failing to conform.
Yet the freedom to hunt is not even on the agenda for debate at this week’s hearings. Instead the Government wants discussion strictly confined to the issues of hunting’s utility and animal suffering. Indeed, the entire exercise has been set up on the presumption that, far from people having any freedoms, it is the State that has the right to decide how we live, work and play.
The Government, in the person of the Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael, will preside over these extra-parliamentary proceedings as both judge and jury, and then (sentence having effectively been passed in advance) it will rule on what form the Bill to ban hunting with hounds should take.
In this debate, the danger to a civilised democratic society does not come from a few foxhunters (as the antis claim), or from the prejudices of a few backbench Labour MPs (as some optimistic hunt supporters suggest). It comes from the advance, and the increasingly widespread acceptance, of the State’s power to encroach upon our autonomy as citizens. Forget the fox; this is what the hunting debate should really be about.
When Mr Michael poses the question of whether hunting with hounds is ‘really necessary’, it should not take anybody three days to come up with the answer: no, of course it isn’t. If hunting with hounds did not exist today, there would be no need to invent it. Nor, contrary to what some in the Countryside Alliance hope, can anybody seriously think that there should be a court-protected human right to hunt foxes?
But what is at stake in debates like this is far more important than the future of foxes or even of huntsmen. It is the future of freedom the freedom to do and (whisper it around Westminster this week), to enjoy doing that of which others disapprove, without incurring the official frown of the Crown.
The usual rider is ‘so long as it causes no harm to others’. Which is fine, so long as we do not stretch the definition of ‘others’ to include furry vermin, or of ‘harm’ to mean offence.
It might seem as if the Countryside Alliance has realised the wider importance of freedom, having called this month’s big demonstration the Liberty and Livelihood March. But coming from them, that could also be seen as an attempt to play down the hunting connection, almost as if they were ashamed of holding such unfashionable views. As hunters should surely know, if the pack gets a whiff of blood, the chase is as good as over.
The debate about hunting does seem a trivial irrelevance this week. Yet it should serve to remind us of the kind of country in which we could be in danger of living.
After all, who wants to fight a war to create a land fit for foxes?
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