Although hunt supporters are right to point out that people of all classes hunt, Labour MPs are equally right to see their ban on hunting, now at last being enacted, as a great blow against the upper classes. Very occasionally, you meet an upper-class person who is against hunting, but this is usually because of being made to do it by disliked parents, practically never because he or she considers it cruel. As for actually banning it, that way of thinking — passing laws
just because you don’t like something —
is foreign to the upper-class mind (perhaps instinct would be a better word). Hunting is close to the heart of an aristocratic approach to life because it is communal, dangerous, unintellectual, non-commercial, ceremonial, hierarchical and depends on a love and knowledge of animals. When Mr Jorrocks — famously unaristocratic — says that hunting is ‘the image of war without its guilt’, he is hot on the scent. The idea of a lord, a knight, a squire, a gentleman is closely related to leadership in war, for centuries conducted on horseback, and hunting is its recreational equivalent and sometimes its training ground. Above all, perhaps, it is to do with the word ‘country’. Hunts, naturally, exist only in the country, but they use the word specifically to describe their own patch — ‘our Thursday country’ — and knowing your country is the prerequisite of good sport. If you know it, you will love it. For classes traditionally defined in part by their ownership of land, all this comes naturally. And from it flows a love of country — in the sense of nation — which exerts a powerful hold on the imagination and explains why the British upper classes were so rarely guilty of the draft-dodging shown by their equivalents in some other countries. These feelings are not confined to a caste: if they were, they wouldn’t count for much. But they do derive from an aristocratic and monarchical way of life. They are cavalier, not roundhead. It is therefore important, in the culture war which New Labour fights, to stigmatise people who hunt and to criminalise them. It is also astonishingly dangerous. How strange that Tony Blair, the great healer, has presided over the most divisive piece of legislation since the war. Great trouble is coming.
One crumb of comfort, though. I’ve heard senior police officers saying that they intend to deal with illegal hunters as they deal with hunt saboteurs. In my experience that means doing absolutely nothing to stop them.
Since the hunting ban will, in practice, be defied, could the sport gradually creep back to legality? The history of French bull-fighting provides an interesting comparison. Bull-fighting has a long tradition in the Landes and the Camargue. In the 19th century, though, as the Iberian sport became more commercial and star-studded, it spread through France as well. There were even bull-fights in Paris. A reaction ensued and, during the Second Empire, it was banned throughout the nation. The taurines were defiant, however. In southern France, they simply went on bull-fighting and incorporated the payment of the fine in the ticket price. Eventually, I gather, the handover of the fine became part of the ceremony of the day, presented to the local préfet before the fight began. In the 20th century, the French government bowed to the facts and passed the present law, which permits bull-fighting to take place in areas where it has a continuous tradition. The interpretation of ‘continuous’ is generous: last year Toulouse had its first bull-fight for 40 years. This law deals sensibly with the clash in a democracy between majority opinion, as expressed in national polls, and quite different attitudes in particular regions and districts. Next season, hunts should invite the chief constable to the meet, hand him the necessary cheque with his stirrup cup, and then get on with it.
It is impossible to read military obituaries — at which the Daily Telegraph excels — without noticing that a great many men seem to have taken part in the ‘last
cavalry charge’, and that this charge seems to have taken place in several different places and at various times. A sub-section of this event appeared recently in the Telegraph obituary of Lt-Col Douglas Gray (‘Indian Army officer who excelled at
pig-sticking and became Director of the National Stud’), when the last occasion in which the British had to fight off a
cavalry charge (Keru Gorge, Eritrea, January 1941) was discussed. When was the positively last cavalry charge? Do the events in the House of Commons this week suggest it might be time for
It seems only yesterday that we British used to congratulate ourselves by pointing out that the Americans were tremendous cry-babies about losing men in combat. Funny how that one has gone quiet. A friend of mine who was a junior minister for Mrs Thatcher tells the story against himself of how he made this claim to her when the coalition forces failed to go on to Baghdad in the first Gulf war.
She turned the famous blue eyes upon him: ‘Only a pipsqueak would make
such a remark!’
One of my favourite BBC characters is Orla Guerin, the Corporation’s reporter in the Middle East. With her grim expression, perfect humourlessness and querulous tones, she could have been created by a satirist of broadcasting bias. Reluctantly acknowledging, after his death, that Yasser Arafat might have had something to do with violence, she turned this round by saying that he was ‘the great excuse’ for Israel not to make peace. One of her traits in her reports is to prefer sentences without verbs, as it might be: ‘Israeli gunships blasting the village all day; for five-year-old Ibrahim, a mother dead, for Israel’s Ariel Sharon, another hit in “the War on Terror”, as night falls, the grieving.’ The absence of a main verb allows her to evade the statement of a fact and concentrate on purveying an impression, always the same: ‘Palestinians good, Israel bad.’
Some annoying things being said too often at present: ‘It’s hard-wired into the DNA’, ‘He’s getting shedloads of money’ (emphasis on the ‘shed’), ‘We must be America’s candid friend’, and anything ending with the word ‘moi?’