by Tim Bonner

The three major parties have now published their general election manifestos. Labour, sadly, continues to obsess about hunting. Having spent 700 hours of parliamentary time banning hunting, Labour now apparently wants to ban it again. This overshadows other positive rural commitments including a process for rural proofing “so that all our laws, policies and programmes consider their impact on rural communities”. The Lib Dems produced a whole section on rural and coastal communities, including some interesting policies aimed at ensuring equal access to services for people in the countryside. The Conservatives match the Lib Dems with a section on rural and coastal communities and also mention hunting stating simply that “we will make no changes to the Hunting Act”.

The Conservatives have in the past made commitments to a vote on the Act, but it is frankly no surprise that with Brexit and the biggest changes to the countryside and farming for a generation on the agenda the party does not currently see changing the law as a priority.

The Alliance remains clear, however, that the Hunting Act has failed at every level. It has done nothing for animal welfare, for conservation or for rural communities. Tellingly anti-hunting groups have not even attempted to show any benefits resulting from the law they spent so long campaigning for, because they know, as well as we do, that there haven’t been any. When it is reviewed, as all laws must be at some stage, we will make those arguments with vigour.

Meanwhile, the Conservative position does guarantee that hunting can continue in its current form during the next parliament, in contrast with the Labour party which remains obsessed with the pursuit of hunts. It proposes changes in the law that would make it almost impossible to take a pack of hounds into the countryside. The motivation for returning to a law, which took 700 hours of parliamentary time to get on the Statute Book the last time Labour was in power, seems simply to be that hunts continue to exist. Whatever the excuses about animal welfare that were used to justify the legislation in the first place it is clear that some in the Labour Party will not be happy until all hunting is cleansed from the countryside.

As I wrote on the Times website earlier this week, Labour’s skewed priorities not only reveal the prejudice that drives its policies, but is also tactically inept. People in rural communities want to see the issues that really concern them addressed, not to be the target of petty political point scoring. Labour’s last rural constituencies are firmly in the battleground of this General Election in North Wales, Cumbria and the North East. I long ago gave up making political predictions, but what I can say with confidence is that the perverse rural priorities revealed by Labour’s obsession with hunting will make it less likely, not more likely, that it will win in the countryside.

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