Class conscious - Andrew Martin has an illogical position on hunting

I don't want fox-hunting banned, because I want to continue to object to it

A family of foxes lives in my garden, and I give them every encouragement to do so. This is not strictly in the name of animal welfare. In fact, it's partly in the hope that they will eat the grey squirrels that also live there and scoff the bulbs I plant, stopping me from having a crocus lawn every spring.

Foxes are interesting to watch, seeming to be exactly equal parts dog and cat. None the less I am, along with everyone I know, against a ban on fox-hunting. This is not to say that I'm in favour of it: rather that I don't want it banned, because I want to continue to object to it.

Many people have got plenty of mileage out of objecting to fox-hunting. We all know what Oscar Wilde said, but the 18th-century poet William Shenstone was funnier, when he wrote: "The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters."

And here's Donald Cameron, reading a report of a fox-hunt, in A G Macdonell's comic novel of 1933, England, Their England: "On Monday morning he read in the Times that the second fox had completely let down the North Bucks Hunt. The wretched creature had ripped off at a great rate and in five minutes had dived into a hole, from which not even the valiant terriers could extract him. He was, in fact, as the Times said, 'a bad fox'."

If the banning of fox-hunting was a useful lunge in the class war, which is how it's often depicted, I would understand. But as Cherie Blair said recently: "Whoever's calling the shots in this country, it isn't the people on the grouse moor." For which we can also read the hunting field.

The people really calling the shots are the multimillionaires in the City, who have been taxed too lightly by this government.

I agree that it is selfish of me to say that I favour institutionalised cruelty towards foxes purely on the off-chance that I might one day have something amusing to say on the subject. My position is about as illogical as that of people who hunt something they can't eat. But it is honestly my position.

I can't help noticing that while the symbols of class are being got rid of, there is no diminution in competitiveness within British society. In effect, we are all simply being marshalled into the same running race, whereas before there were lots of running races.

But it's a grimmer game now, minus the funny hats.

I have seen a fox hunt only once in my life, and it was like something that had escaped from a film, or a dream. These people were different from me; I couldn't do what they were doing, and I wouldn't want to.

When I was nine, a racehorse escaped from a stable near York racecourse and tried to jump over the car that my father was driving. It failed, crashing through the windscreen, showering us both with glass and giving me horse-phobia. I will always remember the expression in its eyes, correctly described, I think, as "fleering".

The fox-hunters I saw were remote from me, and I liked that - their pastime is cruel, but at least it's exotic and interesting. If we ban it, then we should certainly ban the parallel suburban practice: the keeping of birds and rodents in small cages.

We have a hamster, purchased on a whim by my son and looked after exclusively ever since by myself. I let it run around the living room as often as is commensurate with that same son's recently diagnosed allergy to animal fur, and try to cheer it up with hamster "treats".

But my guilt at perpetuating its wretched existence is on a par with my feelings of guilt at coming out in favour of the fox-hunters.

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