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18 February 2010

Why the hunting ban must be defended

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

By George Eaton

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.

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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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