If you are reading this it is very likely that 20 years ago you were in London with 407,790 others for the Liberty and Livelihood March. On 22 September 2002, rural people gathered in unprecedented numbers to protest in the clearest possible terms about the unjustified and ugly attack on the hunting community. The decades can blur and soften the memory, but we must never forget how raw and visceral the campaign against hunting was. It was not about animal welfare or the conservation of species, it was simply bigoted politics of the worst possible kind. A deeply unpleasant attack on a group of people not because of what they did, but because of the image they apparently portrayed, carried out by Labour MPs with the eventual acquiescence of a Labour government.
It is not surprising, therefore, that at times tempers were frayed during the long campaign against the hunting ban. On that September day, however, the atmosphere was relentlessly positive and good natured. The message the vast crowd sent was firm and forceful. We represented every part of Britain’s wonderful countryside and we all stood together against a truly appalling abuse of the fundamental decency of our parliament and legislative system.
I am asked, often, about when we will do it again and my answer is always that the Alliance only named the date and laid out the route. It was the countryside that decided to march 20 years ago and, when the countryside is ready to march again, the Alliance will be ready to facilitate it. In reality, however, the sort of politics that brought 400,000 people to London is unlikely to happen again precisely because it generated such a reaction. The Liberty and Livelihood March may not have stopped the hunting ban, which was really inevitable from the moment a Labour government was elected with a huge majority and a manifesto commitment to a vote on a ban, but it changed rural politics for ever.
The evidence of the last 20 years, and of the rural politics of today, is that since 2002 politicians of all parties have been extremely wary of taking the countryside head on. That is not to say that there does not remain a strand of prejudice about many rural issues, but the attacks tend to be snide and indirect rather than existential. Labour Ministers in Wales withhold Covid support from shooting businesses and instruct their agency to ban shooting on public land rather than try to pass a law to ban the shooting of game birds. The SNP government in Holyrood has introduced legislation on hunting and grouse shooting, but it says it wants to licence grouse moor management and the use of packs of hounds, not ban them. In Westminster, Labour policy is again to carry out a review into grouse shooting and to restrict game farming rather than tackle shooting head on.
The legacy of that great march remains strong and every step that every one of us took had an impact. That legacy, however, means that we have different battles to fight and that we often have to fight them in different ways. The Alliance has changed to face any and every threat to our way of life and, with your unstinting support, will continue to see off our foes.
We're commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Liberty and Livelihood March with a new badge. You can show your support for the countryside by adding it to your collection! Buy your badge here.