The Verdict's In - Fox Hunting Played Major Election Role
Elections can be curious affairs. For political junkies, the polling, the projections, and the posturing are their bread and butter - but away from that there is something much deeper. Elections have a way of distilling how a nation feels and what it values.
This was supposed to be the Brexit election, but in the end, that wasn’t a major issue. To everyone’s surprise, it was usurped by a different issue: hunting.
In Conservative manifestos past, the party has committed a free vote on repeal of the . Previously, when only a handful of Conservative MPs supported the ban, this was barely commented on. But we know that prior to this election, more than 50 Conservative MPs supported the ban. More than that, we know that the of the British public support the ban. So it came as something of a surprise when Theresa May affirmed her own support for hunting, and a repeal of the Hunting Act. What happened next was little short of remarkable.
Like never before, fox hunting became an election issue.
That’s not my just view. Buzzfeed analysed what was being shared online during the campaign. Throughout the campaign, hunting was the fourth most-shared topic, ahead of Brexit. It wasn’t just online that it was making a stir, either. BritainThinks ran focus groups with swing voters in marginal constituencies. After social care, the most commonly mentioned manifesto commitment was the Hunting Act. YouGov said that the words brought up most during the campaign were “social care” and “fox hunting”.
Candidates - both Labour and Conservative - spoke time and time again about how fox hunting repeatedly came up on the doorsteps. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said Theresa May’s comments on hunting were a “turning point” in the campaign. Another Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, said that raising the issue was “very foolish”. The victorious Labour candidate in Canterbury - held by the Conservatives for decades - said it was fox hunting that swung it.
At the same time all this was going on, League Against Cruel Sports supporters were contacting their local candidates as part of the Votes for Vinny campaign. Tens of thousands of emails were sent, and in the days before polling day, thousands of people logged in to the League website to see how their candidates responded to the pledges.
Clearly, hunting is not a party political issue. No party has a monopoly on compassion. Along with those many anti-hunting Conservative MPs, over 70% of Conservative voters support the ban on hunting. Party colour was not the vote loser here - the misjudgement was pandering to a vocal minority who want to see a return to a more ignorant time.
Vinny himself was in cities across Britain, spreading the word about animal cruelty. Candidates from all parties contacted their constituents - and us at the League - to say that they opposed repeal. In the final two weeks of the campaign, an additional 30 Conservative candidates, almost all of whom were elected, said that they would vote against repeal.
So, where do we stand now? Well, it is very difficult to see a repeal vote on the Hunting Act being passed. Former Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps says it “stands absolutely no chance” of repeal.
Despite the Conservatives losing seats, the number of Conservative MPs supporting the Hunting Act has increased, and is possibly as high as one third of MPs. The election has made clear how unpopular - not to mention politically toxic - the idea of repeal is.
Yet there is more work to do. The Brexit process may open the door to . That must be stopped. In the last Parliament, good progress was made towards tougher sentencing for animal cruelty. That must be seen through. It is not just politicians that should now be left in no doubt as to how unpopular hunting is. In a couple of months, ‘’ - the illegal slaughter of fox cubs - will begin again, and hunting continues under the false alibi of “trail hunting”. Public bodies like the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, and the Ministry of Defence continue to allow this on their land. The British public do not tolerate animal cruelty, and neither should those organisations.
With a hung Parliament, the election may have had an indecisive outcome, but in another way, it was utterly decisive. The idea that the Hunting Act should be repealed has been roundly rejected and the hope now is that we can move on from any notion of repeal or weakening. The British public believes in compassion and they believe that animals should be protected from persecution. Politicians surely now accept that. It must be time, therefore, that we seek to strengthen and extend those protections.