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29 October 2010

Why Tory MPs might save the hunting ban

At least 20 new Conservative MPs are opposed to the repeal of the ban.

By George Eaton

Tony Blair might have described the hunting ban as one of his biggest regrets in A Journey but not all Conservative MPs agree with him. Today’s Guardian reports that a significant number of the new intake are opposed to the repeal of the ban.

And there’s a range of impressive on-the-record quotes from Tory MPs to support the claim:

Richard Harrington, MP for Watford: “I’m in favour of country sports, but I don’t think it’s setting a good example to anyone by ripping animals to pieces as a form of entertainment.”

Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and Portslade: “I think there’s enough of us to ensure that the ban will remain. A lot of people who decided not to vote Conservative will be surprised to find that it’s Conservatives who will stop it. Enough soundings have been taken to realise that things would stay as they are if there was a vote. There may be even more than 20 [anti-hunting] Conservatives. I haven’t spoken to all but those I have spoken to are certain. Most of them are from the new intake.”

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Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes: “The overwhelming majority [in my constituency] are not in favour of hunting with hounds and I would vote against it. I’m not sure it’s about city versus countryside or it’s the younger generation: some of those who feel most passionately are older people.”

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There’s even a little-known group called “Conservatives Against Fox Hunting” claiming to represent “the two-thirds of Conservative supporters and the 75% of the general population who are against the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004”. The days when only Ann Widdecombe and five other Tory MPs supported the ban are long gone.

By contrast, David Cameron has persistently argued that the ban was “a mistake” and has promised to offer MPs a free vote on legalising hunting with dogs. But at a time when the Tory grassroots are already exercised by Cameron’s “EU betrayal”, the news that the hunting ban may be here to stay won’t go down well at all.