Out on the campaign trail in Leeds today, Theresa May stated that she supports fox hunting. ‘As it happens personally I have always been in favour of fox hunting and we maintain our commitment - we have had a commitment previously as a Conservative Party - to allow a free vote,' she said.
The Prime Minister has consistently voted against the ban on hunting, and the general consensus has been that although she doesn’t necessarily think of it as a particularly important issue, she is supportive of the hunting community.
But it is perhaps something of a surprise that May has today come out and publicly said that she is actively in favour of fox hunting. The last three Tory manifestos have all contained a pledge to hold a free vote on repealing the ban on hunting – so its reappearance would not have been out of the ordinary. But why would she have decided to speak out on the issue today?
It could be because she is keen to harness the power of the hunting community for the Tory election campaign. Although time and time again the polls have shown that as an electoral issue, hunting is largely irrelevant, those who do care about it care about it very strongly indeed.
Today’s Daily Mirror front page leads with a story about a ‘secret Tory plot’ to bring back hunting. To be honest, I don’t quite know why this is a story, let alone a major ‘reveal’. The hunting community have consistently fought against the Hunting Act, and have encouraged their supporters to both campaign for and vote for the party who will repeal the ban. The one main party who have reliably included a manifesto pledge in favour of hunting has been the Tories. So the leaked emails from Lord Mancroft, Vice Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, urging hunt masters to mobilise their members to help secure a Conservative majority, are hardly surprising. Meanwhile the lobbying group Vote OK have been open about the fact that they will lend their support to any candidate who supports repealing the ban on hunting. In the last election, they played an important role in campaigning for the Tories in a number of key battlegrounds.
But in previous elections the Conservatives were also able to rely on their ‘Battle Buses’ – young Tory activists who were keen to campaign, and were shipped around the country with the promise of free curry and beer. This time, however, the bullying scandal surrounding the RoadTrip campaign, and the banning of its organiser from the Conservative Party means that in 2017, eager Tory campaigners might be harder to find than in the past. Bearing that in mind, it would be understandable if May had decided that help from the hunting community would be more useful than ever. Her statement today certainly sends a positive signal in the direction of the hunting community.