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Our response to the new Labour government

The fact that every poll in the last five weeks and every informed commentator in the last two years has predicted this general election's result does not make it any less seismic. Nor does it mean that the potential consequences for the countryside and rural communities are lessened.

Change is as unsettling as it is necessary, but there is one crucial element of the campaign which should be noted both by those who supported Labour, and those who did not. Labour won from the middle ground. On rural issues this was not the party of Jeremy Corbyn seeking to use the countryside as a playground for Marxist politics. There was no commitment to a ‘right to roam’ to signal its distaste for even the concept of private property. There was no attack on grouse shooting as a substitute for putting aristocrats and kulaks up against a wall. Even Labour’s traditional sops to the animal rights movement have been half-hearted. It says the badger cull will end, but only after bovine TB has been eliminated. Then, of course, there is hunting. There is a commitment to ban trail hunting because, Labour says, trail hunting is a loophole that allows the hunting of foxes to continue. Whether the limited evidence justifies such a commitment is at least questionable, but a specific pledge to address perceived illegality is not the all-out attack on hunting that anti-hunting organisations wanted. The subsequent meltdown at the League Against Cruel Sports shows exactly how disappointed they are.

Whilst Labour won from the middle ground, the crucial question now is where it will govern from. The unique nature of this election means that whilst Keir Starmer has one of the largest majorities in modern political history, he achieved that with a significantly lower share of the vote than Tony Blair achieved in 1997 and less than Jeremy Corbyn’s vote in Labour’s 2017 defeat. The new government will know very well that this electoral mathematics mean that a two or three term Labour government cannot be taken for granted, especially if it abandons the ground where it won such a famous victory.

On the one hand issues like hunting might seem an irrelevance to such electoral calculations, but on the other they send out the strongest possible signals about how a political party sees itself and how a government intends to rule. Is all the talk of respect for the countryside and the acknowledgements of past failings real or is Labour going to revert to petty political point scoring in the countryside? The answer is unlikely to come on 17 July when the King’s Speech will lay out the agenda for the first year of the new government, but at some stage in the next couple of years we will learn more about the government’s proposals for hunting legislation as well as its approach to issues like firearms licensing, general licences for the control of pest species and the licensing of release of pheasants and partridges.

In the meantime, hunting in particular, must take the opportunity to address the perceptions that lie behind Labour’s pledge to legislate. There is a clear path towards a sustainable future for hounds, hunts and our community, but to follow that we must show at every opportunity that hunts are operating legally and legitimately. Anything else will fuel the inevitable campaign to strengthen the Hunting Act to eliminate hunting entirely.

What happens next? Following any general election there is a period of transition in which the new parliament assembles, MPs are sworn in and the new government is formed. There then follows the King’s Speech in which the government indicate their plans. With a change of governing party and the arrival of so many new MPs this period of transition is all the more significant. Find out what will happen over the next few weeks.

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