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Tim Bonner: Ten thousand say no to trail hunting ban

In just 72 hours, over 10,000 of you emailed shadow Defra Secretary Steve Reed in response to his pledge in The Times newspaper to ban drag hunting and trail hunting in the first term of a Labour government. The Alliance has had a range of conversations within the Labour Party since and it is clear there is some unease and confusion about the current approach. 

Most publicly Lord (Peter) Mandelson responded to Mr Reed’s announcement by saying that hunting was an electorally irrelevant “third or fourth order issue”. Mr Reed himself has given two major interviews since without mentioning trail hunting and has assured us that Labour’s plans are limited to a minor tweak to ensure that the law is being adhered to. 

If this is true, and it is certainly not the message that came out of The Times interview, no one in the Labour party has been able to answer the question of how it can ensure that whatever legislation it brings forward is not hijacked by backbenchers, just as the Hunting Act was. 

The other question Labour has to answer is whether its obsession with hunting is more important than its desire to mend its relationship with the countryside. First Keir Starmer and now Steve Reed have repeatedly admitted that Labour had lost touch with rural Britain. They have reversed out of unhelpful policy positions such as banning grouse shooting and introducing a ‘Right to Roam’, which has gone a long way in detoxifying Labour’s brand in rural communities. They have spent considerable time and no little effort in wooing the farming sector and the wider rural constituency.  

Yet, they are willing to risk all that over the issue of trail hunting which is largely irrelevant to the public. As I have pointed out to many Labour politicians, with very little disagreement, everything else they do in terms of rural policy will be drowned out if they really do intend to launch another attack on hunting. There is absolutely no political benefit to the pursuit of hunting with hounds. If you ask the electorate what issues will affect their vote at the general election nobody will mention hunting.  

The last time we ran polling on this issue less than 0.2% of people spontaneously mentioned hunting as one of the issues that would change how they vote. When we asked them to compare hunting with other issues that might impact on their choice at an election it ranked well below wind farms, house building, mobile phone connection and HS2. 

The reality is that Labour is not following public opinion with its commitment on trail hunting, it is bowing to a small group within the party for whom hunting is a totemic political issue. The reasons for this obsession are rooted in class war, envy and a completely misplaced perception of hunting as somehow symbolic of Tory England. It is impossible to square such an approach with the suggestion that Labour has a renewed respect for rural communities. Keir Starmer will have to decide whether he really is going to change Labour’s approach to the countryside, or whether he is going to enable another attack on hunting. He cannot do both.

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