Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The Labour Party’s position on shooting has long been one of disinterest. There was a recurring commitment in its manifestos that Labour had “no intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting”, but that was only made in the context of the commitment to ban hunting. It was clearly a sop, and the fact that it disappeared the moment the Hunting Act was passed emphasises just how shallow the ‘commitment’ was.
For generations that strange part of the Labour Party that is obsessed by class war and the countryside was only really interested in hunting. For reasons that are utterly obscure to anyone else, and which certainly had nothing to do with animal welfare, it turned how foxes are killed into the most prominent political issue of the day. Whilst the obsession with hunting still remains pre-eminent it is now being joined by others, especially game shooting.
The reaction of Labour politicians to this new focus is mixed, as the last week has shown. At the Labour conference in Liverpool at the Countryside Alliance’s fringe meeting Shadow Minister Luke Pollard said that “rural communities are being poorly served by those voices that just want to talk about grouse shooting. Because we need to talk about that whole range of rural issues”. We could not agree more. The debate over grouse shooting is driven by exactly the same elements in the Labour Party who obsess over hunting. As our work with the Fabians made so clear Labour will not be taken seriously in the countryside if it thinks the animal rights agenda has any resonance in rural communities.
In Wales, however, the Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn has written to Natural Resource Wales (NRW) urging it to ban pheasant shooting on public land in contradiction of its own internal review because the Labour Government has “ethical issues” with game shooting. After a storm of criticism Ms Blythyn has now claimed that her letter “did not bind NRW to accept and follow [the Labour Government’s] position”. An epic piece of blame shifting which cannot hide the underlying sentiment: her Government does not like shooting and is willing to impose its will where it can regardless of the consequences for jobs and the countryside.
There are very few Labour MPs who can claim to represent even partially rural seats. This situation is unlikely to change whilst it flirts with policies that alienate large parts of the rural community instead of addressing the real issues that are affecting the countryside.
The Countryside Alliance will shortly be launching an eLobby platform to help all of our Welsh members and supporters contact NRW and their Assembly Members about the pheasant shooting ban on public land. Keep an eye on our website, our social media feeds and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up to date with all the latest developments.
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