Rural England's silent people

Observations on hunting (1)

In all the controversy over hunting, almost no one bothers to inquire about the views of rural workers. After all, one of the arguments used against a ban is that it would lead to job losses. So it may surprise you to learn that whenever the subject is debated at the Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers' trade group conference, there's a substantial majority in favour of a ban.

"Many of my members," says Chris Kaufman, the group's national secretary, "work with animals every day of their lives. They have seen hunting at first hand, and they know that it does mean unnecessary suffering. Hunting isn't their sport - it's the sport of some who employ them."

The group is part of the T&G and is the only rural workers' union. Kaufman says that hunting involves only a small number of jobs, which are often casual and low-paid. "It would be nice," Kaufman adds, "if those people who say they are so concerned about our members' jobs were equally solicitous when it comes to giving them job security and decent pay."

Kaufman's retired predecessor, Barry Leathwood, a former farmworker who now helps the League Against Cruel Sports in rural Somerset, drummed up support for the ban.

"Jobs would be lost if all the horses used in hunting were destroyed," he says. "But a person who rides isn't going to give up riding because he can't kill any more. In fact, more people might ride once riding loses its association with hunting. The few jobs that are lost can easily be diverted to drag hunting, in which a trail is laid for hounds. They can have all the fancy dress, all the leaping over fences, I've no objection to that. All you lose is the grisly kill at the end."

Leathwood agrees that most farmworkers dislike hunting. "If a fox is a problem, they'll go out and shoot it, but they don't like to see it torn apart," he says.

Yet almost all the national media treat the Countryside Alliance as the authentic voice of the countryside. No doubt this is partly because farmworkers don't have the means to make themselves as much of a nuisance as members of the Country Land & Business Association (formerly the Country Landowners' Association). In the insinuating drawl of people who are used to governing, landowners say: "I allow pylons on my 2,000 acres; I allow the army to train on my estate; I might have to withdraw these facilities from the nation." Rural workers, who often cannot afford to buy homes in the villages where they work, do not have the power to make such threats.

It is rather sad that we have a Labour Prime Minister who would rather listen to the landowners than the workers. But at least most Labour MPs have listened to the right people.