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Tim Bonner: Labour breaks ceasefire on hunting

Labour has been briefing for some time that it is committed to “strengthening” the Hunting Act and on Monday, in an interview with The Times, Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed gave more detail. In a significant escalation, he pledged a full ban on drag hunting and trail hunting and said that “this is something we’ll do in the first term of a Labour government”.

We should never be surprised at Labour’s continuing obsession with hunting, but even by its standards this announcement was bizarre for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Labour really seems to believe that it can admit in one breath that it has “become too narrowly urban, and people in the countryside felt we did not respect their way of life”, and then in the next commit to eliminate something which is fundamental to that way of life. By once again making hunting its rural priority, Labour is doing exactly what everyone from the Fabians to Lord Mandelson (who responded to Mr Reed’s announcement by saying that hunting was an electorally irrelevant “third or fourth order issue”) warned them against. Once again Labour is telling people in the countryside that it is far more interested in its internal obsessions than it is in the real concerns of rural communities.

Secondly, this new commitment to ban drag and trail hunting directly contradicts the narrative that every Minister used when the last Labour government introduced the ban on traditional hunting. They, along with organisations like the RSPCA, promoted the hunting of a trail as an alternative to hunting foxes and other mammals. Now they want to ban that. The obvious conclusion is that, despite all the denials, the real motivation of the left and the animal rights movement has always been to eliminate hunts. The hunting debate has never really been about foxes, it has always been an opportunity to vent prejudice and bigotry.

Thirdly, if Labour wanted to pick an issue that was both utterly pointless, but which also contradicted all its efforts to detoxify its brand after the Corbyn era, it could not have chosen better. Every Momentum supporting anti-Semite in the Labour movement, led by the likes of ex-MP, hunt sab and League Against Cruel Sports trustee Chris Williamson, will be cheering from the rafters. There could be no more obvious counter to Keir Starmer’s claim that the Labour Party has moved on than repeating a battle that has already been fought with a mythical Tory squirearchy that does not even exist.

We must remain confident that this is a battle we can win. Labour’s position is logically, morally and even legally (it completely ignores human rights legislation) bankrupt. The elephant in the room, however, is the current political and public perception of hunting, which is both Labour’s excuse for legislation and its comfort that many people will see its policy as justified. Like a convoy, hunting travels at the speed of the slowest, and the slowest hunts are too often behaving in a way that is compromising the future of hunting as a whole. The message from Labour is clear. Hunting is now staring death in the face and will be judged on the standards it upholds.

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Image: Sarah Farnsworth Photography

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