In the scheme of things, it may not greatly matter whether fox-hunting survives in England. We live in a world of woe and suffering, of pestilence, poverty and war, where millions die each year from hunger or violence, where a vast crisis in western Asia threatens to erupt catastrophically. A sense of proportion should tell us that the future of a traditional country sport enjoyed by barely a quarter of a million people in a damp little island off the north-western corner of Europe cannot be of the highest importance.
And yet the hunting controversy is also like a great sheet of lightning which has lit up the whole political landscape in all its horrible detail. This week’s climax is much more than just a showdown between Lords and Commons; it is one of the bleakest moments in recent political history. We should almost be thankful for the politicians who have forced the Bill through, since they have demonstrated in the process the sheer rottenness of our political culture.
By now the question has obviously taken on a life of its own and is in a real sense beyond argument, having exhausted both sides in debate. All the same, it needs to be said one last time that there is no moral difference whatever between fox-hunting and fishing, and that only an ethical imbecile can pretend otherwise. That is written with more than usual conviction, and even authority. I have never hunted in my life, and I enjoy fishing. My view is shared on the other side by Peter Singer, leader of the advanced animal rights movement, who doesn’t believe that there is any distinction either.
To be sure, there are some who do claim to discern a difference. One of the nastiest moments in recent political history was before the 1997 election when Millbank, worried about the wider effect of a hunting ban on country sportsmen, published a document saying that New Labour was actively in favour of angling.