Among those deeply disappointed with the Conservative party’s victory on 7 May was Britain’s diverse and vibrant community of wild animals. They have not yet daubed anti-Tory slogans on war memorials or marched through city centres screaming that they are not going to take it any more — and still less written vacuous and hyperbolic tirades for the Guardian. But they are deeply worried and consider themselves vulnerable to the assaults from a Conservative government untrammelled by the moderating influence of those sentimentalists the Lib Dems.
And so badgers are stocking up on gas masks and the foxes are doing their callisthenics, so as to outpace some psychopathic fat toff on a wheezing mare, and bulk–buying aniseed spray to befuddle the hounds. Others — such as hen harriers — appear to have given up the ghost altogether and have plumped for extinction as the only viable option. Their fears are entirely justified: the Conservatives have a truly shocking record on conservation.
Given the opportunity, the party will side with any and every lobby group which wishes to exterminate or persecute wild animals, either for reasons of money, or because they are in our way, or just for the sheer hell of it, the fun.
Already the first salvos have been fired against the wildlife. Sir Ian Botham, a Tory and former cricketer, has sprung to the ‘defence’ of Britain’s very few remaining hen harriers and lambasted the RSPB for not doing more to protect them. The charity is useless, Beefy fumed — far better to entrust the hen harriers’ survival to the, uh, gamekeepers. Yes, Botham is part of the shooting lobby and probably cares less about hen harriers than I do about batting averages or whether or not some foreign cricketer called Kevin Pietersen is a ‘complete cunt’. Entrusting the future of this beautiful bird of prey to the gamekeepers is akin to entrusting the security of your chicken coop to an organisation named ‘Reynard, Tod and Associates’. Only the farmers have wreaked more havoc on endangered wildlife than the gamekeepers. Round my way gamekeepers shoot any and every bird of prey they clap their nasty little eyes on — buzzards, goshawks, sparrow-hawks — you name it, they’ll shoot or poison it. All supposedly to preserve the stocks of educationally challenged pheasants (although buzzards dine almost exclusively on rabbit, and sparrowhawks on small songbirds, and there are too few goshawks to make any difference either way).
But it is the foxes who are really frit. Some months before the election the Prime Minister insisted that the ban on fox-hunting would be subjected to a free vote in the House of Commons, given a Conservative victory. And the hunters are thus elated. I have been debating with them on a social media site and I can tell you, their arguments are exquisitely vapid, contradictory and sort of non sequitur. There’s no thrill in ripping a fox to bits, they say. The foxes actually enjoy the thrill of the chase! It’s all necessary to keep ‘vermin’ under control. And also hardly any foxes are killed. The hunting ban cost loads of jobs and hurt the rural economy. And anyway, since the ban even more people have joined the hunts and business is booming, so the ban must have failed!
And they spew out this rubbish with a straight face. It all reminds me of the Sigmund Freud story about the man who borrowed a kettle from his neighbour and returned it broken. ‘But I never borrowed it from you,’ the neighbour complains. And then: ‘Also, it was broken when I borrowed it.’ And ‘It wasn’t broken when I gave it back.’ The kettle logic of the hunting fraternity.
If David Cameron was savvy — and I am beginning to believe he certainly is savvy — instead of repealing the ban, or offering a free vote, he’ll tighten it up. While there have been prosecutions since the ban was introduced, there are too many loopholes in the law. Stop all this stuff about hunts being allowed to rip a fox to bits if they stumble across it ‘accidentally’, for a start. And order the Old Bill to enforce the law properly instead of leaving it to the RSPCA. How many other laws are enforced solely by voluntary bodies?
According to a whole bunch of reports since the ban came into effect in 2005, there has been no increase in the fox population — which immediately contradicts the ‘vermin control’ arguments and also those which suggested that imposing the ban would be like opening the doors at Sangatte — we’ll be overrun, swamped by jubilant, crowing foxes! The same reports suggest that no jobs have been lost whatsoever — that was all hyperbolic lies. The number of jobs directly reliant upon fox-hunting was in any case minuscule — something in the region of 750 nationally. More to the point there has been a large net rise, year on year, of people joining and taking part in hunts. The Burns Commission put this at 11 per cent — with more than a third of hunts reporting a large increase in followers or participants. So that’s the ‘job losses — rural economy destroyed’ argument rendered null and void, I would suggest. No economic hardship whatsoever has been occasioned by the hunting ban: and if business is now thriving, why change it back to the way it was?
The only sensible argument against the fox-hunting ban was the simple libertarian point: ‘We enjoy doing it, why should you stop us?’ Fair enough, I understand the principles and the logic behind that entreaty. It does not quite do it for me, but it is a salient argument. The answer, I would suggest, is that as a nation we have thought better of it, we shrink away from hunting’s easy barbarity. And according to the latest opinion poll, 75 per cent of the electorate agree with me about that.
Stick with the 75 per cent, Mr Cameron. And be the leader of a Conservative party which seeks to conserve rather than destroy; be soft-Green — humane and kindly towards our wildlife, even if they don’t have a vote.