Friday, February 25, 2005

Column, February 22, 2005

SO it’s goodbye to all that.
No more tally-ho or view halloo, whatever they may mean.
No more stirrup cups, and men in pink (what you and I call red) jackets, or hunting horns ringing out across the fields on a frosty morning.
And who will mourn their passing?
Well, despite what I’ve written in the past, I will. Because somewhere along the way the hunting ban ceased to be about preventing cruelty and instead became an exercise in the curtailment of liberty.
We’re not talking fundamental freedoms here, nowhere in the Human Rights Act does it enshrine your right to go chasing a fox on horseback with a pack of hounds.
But the hunting ban is about a parliamentary majority, made up primarily of Labour MPs from urban seats, imposing its will on people who live in the countryside and who primarily elect MPs sitting on the Opposition benches.
Now, MPs make laws all the time that will be unpopular with sections of the community – need I mention the Poll Tax, which was pretty well reviled by everyone. But this ban seems peculiar in its single-minded determination to give those in the Shires a good kicking because the metrocentric Labour MPs have the means to do so for the first time in their party’s history.
This is not about animal cruelty, because, as was apparent after the ban came into effect, foxes are just as much in danger now as they were before. More so, in fact, because it’s harder to outrun a well-aimed shotgun than it is a pack of hounds.
And if new Labour are so concerned about animal welfare where is the Act of Parliament banning factory farming of chickens. Where is the law to stop animals being pumped full of growth promoters and antibiotics all in the name of a quick buck for huge agri-business conglomerates?
Nowhere to be seen because those very companies produce cheap rubbish masquerading as food, and there are no votes to be had in putting up the price of chicken breasts on the supermarket shelves.
For many animals raised for consumption, life, if it can be called that, is nasty, brutish and its only mercy is that it is short. So Labour MPs complacently patting themselves on the back having eliminated the ‘cruelty’ of the fox hunt, ought perhaps to take a trip to a shed used to raise broiler chickens.
Of course the Countryside Alliance and others in favour of the hunts do themselves no favours in their choice of spokesmen. They hit upon a bright idea with their poster campaign showing the likes of a nurse who enjoys the hunt, trying to prove that it was not just the preserve of the landed gentry.
Why then do they insist on fronting up their campaigns with red-faced double-barrelled hoorahs who confirm every cliché there is about huntspeople?
And it is apparent that the hunts have a fairly unpleasant thuggish following too, and they might win more friends among the undecided if their whippers-in kept these under control as well.
Still just because you don’t like the cut of someone’s gib, that’s no reason to go banning their way of life. Hunting has been going on for a long time in this country and it played its part for better or worse, in shaping rural communities. You don’t just do away with it on the whim of city MPs who never set foot in the country.
Of course hunting involves some cruelty. But then so does angling, and I wonder whether New Labour will consider banning that next.
I suspect there will be much muttering, shuffling of feet and averted glances at the thought of the electoral suicide involved in trying to ban the biggest participatory sport in the UK. So it’s not about principles is it? It’s about what’s politically possible. Metropolitan Labour MPs were ideologically opposed to hunting and the ‘class’ of people they perceived were involved in it, so they banned it, because they could.
And the League Against Cruel Sports should save us its shrill certainty now it has achieved its aim, no-one likes a sore loser, but a smug winner is even more irritating.
And what of the sabs? Just to digress, I was covering a hunt once, and I thought the smell of the pack of hounds was bad…until a van full of sabs emptied out.
Do you think the hunt saboteurs will quietly go home once hunting is no more. Will they hang up their balaclavas and start using soap for the first time in their lives?
I’m guessing perhaps not, I’m guessing that angling is next on the list and they won’t be happy until everyone complies with their lentil-eating ideology.
And let’s face it, the hunt ban was Blair’s sop to the party for its lap-dog support for the war in Iraq. The Labour party has saved the lives of a few foxes in exchange for the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
It would make Keir Hardie so proud.

IT’S a long, long time since I went to Glanllyn, the Urdd centre on the banks of Llyn Tegid.
So I can’t comment on whether it is a hotbed of nationalist sentiment or, as it was in my day, a rather fun way of promoting Welsh, although the food was terrible, but then they did make us cook for ourselves.
But I have to say that Cardiff’s Fitzalan High School seems to have got the wrong end of the stick in accusing if of peddling racist comments.
I’m no expert in poetry, but when a verse talks of ‘Welsh’ food like coq au vin and curry being better then frogs’ legs, snails and Bombay Duck, I think a hefty dose of irony is being served up.
For the slow of understanding – coq au vin and curry aren’t Welsh.

AS you shiver in the sub-zero temperatures of this week, take a little cheer in the fact that it has been presented to you entertainingly.
John Ketley was on the radio complaining about the cult of celebrity that has taken over in weather forecasting (although few of them, like him, have had a song named after them) and the exaggeration of their forecasts.
I’m bugged by their desire to give weather a personality. This morning as I drove to work some witless woman was talking about ‘organised snow.’
What can she have been think of? Organised by who, what fiendish mind is behind this sinister organisation of all those flakes.
You hear it all the time, cloud ‘pushing it’s way in’, rain ‘marching in from the West’, and sun ‘poking its way through the clouds.’
I don’t know what’s more irritating, the personality of the weather, or the ‘personalities’ presenting it.

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