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Fox hunting is deeply unpopular - so why does Theresa May care so much about bringing it back?

Eight out of ten people support the ban, writes shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary Sue Hayman. 

Labour’s 2017 manifesto is a future-facing, optimistic and transformative plan for Britain and our commitments on animal welfare represent this in every way.

Our vision is clear: for the UK to lead the world with high animal welfare standards in the wild, in farming and for domestic animals. Labour’s polices do more than attempt to defend the status quo, they actively drive progress in this area.

New policies in the Labour manifesto include increased sentencing for the most serious of animal welfare crimes, a ban on third party sale of puppies, promoting cruelty-free animal husbandry and consulting on ways to ensure better enforcement of agreed standards.

We also stand by a ban on ivory trading and the use of wild animals in circuses as well as opposing the badger cull and any return to hunting with hounds.

It is right that policy on animal rights improves and progresses as we understand more about the impact of poor animal welfare standards on our delicate ecosystems, our food chain and the extent to which animals experience suffering and pain.

Yet at the same time that Labour are driving progress in improving animal welfare, the Conservatives, as with so many policy areas, want to drag us back to the dark ages and undo hard won progress. 

The 2017 Conservative manifesto quietly scrapped a pledge by former Prime Minister David Cameron to "press for a total ban on ivory sales" in the UK. 

Following Theresa May’s admission that she personally supports a return to hunting with hounds, her manifesto confirmed the promise to resurrect the issue again – wasting parliamentary time, tax payer money and most importantly, undoing progress and common sense on this issue. The British public get it. In fact, 84 per cent of people support the ban. Its inhumane, ineffective and unpopular.

So why does Theresa May care so much about bringing back fox hunting?

Firstly the Conservatives claim that it is a humane and effective way to control pest populations. We know that this simply isn’t true. The 2000 Lord Burns report concluded that the “overall contribution of traditional fox hunting, within the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole”.

Secondly they claim that fox hunting is intrinsic to rural traditions and rural economies. But this is just a smoke screen for Conservative failure and neglect of rural communities.

The truth is that rural poverty continues to be a significant, underreported problem, while rural transport infrastructure, broadband connectivity and housing are all serious concerns that have been swept under the carpet by this Conservative government.

A recent report by the Local Government Association (LGA) and Public Health England (PHE) found that there is "real hardship" in rural communities and that they are being "neglected" with increasing digital exclusion and a breakdown in social networks and transport links. It is nothing short of an insult that the Conservatives use the repeal of the hunting ban to claim that they are representing the interests and real concerns of rural communities like mine in Cumbria.

Labour is extremely proud to have introduced the hunting ban and I am proud that now more than ever we are standing steadfast to the ban as well as to our commitment of progressing animal welfare standards.

Turning back the clock on hard-won progress is the overarching theme of the Conservative manifesto and this is particularly true on animal welfare.

The choice this election couldn’t be more of a contrast.

A Conservative party who simply does not consider animal welfare to be a serious issue and that uses fox hunting as a smokescreen for their complete failure and neglect of our rural communities or a forward-looking Labour government committed not only to defending current animal welfare standards, but with the vision and commitment to enhance and progress them.

Sue Hayman is the shadow secretary for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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