Why the hunting ban must be defended

Labour is right to expose the Tories' plan to reverse the ban.

In the column that led to his sacking as editor of the Today programme, Rod Liddle wrote that while voters may have forgotten why they supported Labour in 1997, they would remember once they saw the sort of people campaigning for fox-hunting.

Seven years on from that column, and exactly five years on from the hunting ban, Hilary Benn is hoping that Liddle's prediction is still correct. In a piece for today's Guardian, he mounts a vigorous defence of the ban and attacks the Tories' plans to reverse it.

Over at the Telegraph, David Hughes is distressed that the Environment Secretary can't find anything better to do with his time than reopen the hunting debate. But it wasn't Benn who reopened the debate, it was the Tories.

The party's inappropriately named "animal welfare spokesman", Andrew Rosindell, has pledged to make the repeal of the ban a priority for a Conservative government, and David Cameron has promised to give Tory MPs a free vote on the matter. Had the Tories accepted the ban, there would be no need for Benn to have written the piece.

The argument for the ban on hunting foxes with hounds is complete on the grounds that a humanity that inflicts terrible cruelties on other species is not very well placed to reduce cruelty within its own ranks. Thus, Cyril Connolly was almost entirely wrong when he described animal love as the "honey of the misanthrope". As Christopher Hitchens once noted:

[I]t will be found that people who "care" -- about rainforests or animals, miscarriages of justice or dictatorships -- are, though frequently irritating, very often the same people. Whereas those who love hamburgers and riskless hunting and mink coats are not in the front ranks of Amnesty International.

Benn's decision to make the ban an election issue is also good politics. Fox-hunting is one of the controversies that has encouraged anti-Tory tactical voting in the past and it could do so again. If Cameron really does want to reverse the ban, he should at least have the decency to tell us why.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.