Outfoxed

Bury Free Press, 17th July 2015

Little encapsulates the image of the traditional Conservative gentry more than the fox hunt. This week’s proposed vote on an amendment to Labour’s ban represented a step towards Tory Britain, just two months after their election victory. And yet the issue has turned out thornier than the Suffolk countryside on which the hunts take place.

The SNP, with typical anti-Tory tokenism, have made fox hunting the subject of their most vicious opposition yet. This is a golden opportunity for them – it’s rare that the gruesome imagery of foxes being ripped apart is paired with such obvious affiliation with a party. And by not anticipating the SNP’s organised rejection, the government was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on Tuesday to avoid losing the vote.

Polls suggest that upwards of 80% of the electorate support the existing ban. In fact, they also suggest that many Tory voters, Tory backbenchers and even Tory ministers support the ban. It’s hard to sympathise with the farmers Cameron claims he is protecting, when their solution to a fox problem is the landed gentry heading out with their dogs.

The issue with fox hunting is that it combines a serious issue with sport. It’s unsettling to voters that a certain strata of society takes great pleasure in the most brutal form of pest control imaginable. For the same reason we see Roman gladiator arenas as a sign of a barbaric justice system, it’s impossible in the modern day to reconcile ideas about animal welfare with jolly-hockey-sticks hunting culture.

A vote this week on fox hunting was a mistake. It represents everything many voters hate about the Conservatives, it was a open goal for the insurgent Scots, and it leaves the lingering taste of the inconsiderate upper class. Alex Salmond now has a certain foxy allure that the Tories will struggle to tarnish.

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