Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Blair votes to ban hunting"

I just don't believe that Tony Blair wants to ban fox-hunting, but even he couldn't bring himself to go into the lobbies with the Tories, not publicly at least. What Blair really wants is a compromise deal - or middle way, as he calls it. To this end, No 10 briefed the most respected of all lobby correspondents, Phil Webster of the Times, who wrote of Blair's desire for a compromise. If the plan was to float the idea to see how it would go down with the Labour backbenchers, then it quickly sank. There is no mood for a deal with the hunters; they want blood, and it does not look as if Blair will get his way.

The Labour MPs seem to have closed their eyes and ears on this issue, oblivious to the damage it could do to their government. If they wanted to, they could look north of the border and see what the fox row has done to undermine the Scottish Parliament. The new law in Scotland not only fails to ban hunting completely; it will also certainly face a strong legal challenge. The main damage has been that the Scottish public thinks the parliament spent far too long on an issue that doesn't affect most of them. While it is true that the majority of people want a ban on fox-hunting - just as the majority support hanging - they do not see it as a priority.

The biggest cheer ever heard in the Scottish Parliament was when one of the Labour MSPs said publicly what they all believed privately - that they were wasting their time when they should be debating things that matter. As a result of all this, the Westminster parliament now has more respect than Edinburgh's.

Blair is rightly worried that the divisions seen in Scotland will be repeated in England and Wales. He has enough problems without a silly row about people dressed up in funny clothes killing vermin.

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