411 Field Sports-How Not To Promote

by   David Hancock

 "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity".

Those words by the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, form just about the perfect summary for the manner in which hunting with dogs came to be a target for urban-dwelling  morally-vain single-issue lobbyists. The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 may represent the most misguided piece of  legislation of recent times. But I suspect that the Hunting with Dogs Act will be seen in time to represent the raw truth in Martin Luther King's words. The government's advisors on the DDA were the very people who from their own mandate were established to protect dogs not humans: the Kennel Club and the RSPCA. The leading agent in the desire to ban hunting with dogs has been the charity set up by well-meaning visionaries to prevent cruelty to animals, including dogs.

 The DDA has led to enormous cruelty to dogs, innocent dogs being destroyed by the thousand. Undeterred, our leading animal charity set its sights on prohibiting the use of dogs to catch game, destroy vermin and assist man in the countryside. This was done without the key feature of a definition of cruelty and with little consideration for dogs. Anyone listening to the debate in the Commons on the bill to ban hunting would have noted not just sincere ignorance but also a threat to democracy itself. The case was not based on fact but on prejudice, the arguments not rooted in knowledge but in unashamed ignorance. But was this the fault of MPs?

 The whole manner in which the campaign to counter the brazen propaganda of the anti-hunting lobby was conducted was, to me, profoundly depressing. Arguments about job losses, freedom, country traditions and sporting heritage were to me ill-advised, even idiotic. Politicians simply do not care about such things despite their smarmy words, pompous speeches and vain posturing. The first task in any battle is to know your enemy; your tactics are based not just on what you want to do but on destroying his capability. Judged by the tactics used by the pro-hunting lobby, they deserved to lose this particular battle. Who on earth decided that 'if one sport goes we all go'? Expressions like 'all your eggs in one basket' and 'united we stand, divided we fall' can now be replaced by 'every egg being broken at the same time is not clever' and 'united we can be defeated at a stroke'! Conscientious stupidity maybe, but stupidity still.

 To allow the alleged widespread resentment of fox-hunting to develop into an alleged public distaste for each and every manner of hunting with dogs was disastrously unwise and had the worst possible consequences. It seemed to me that every sound argument put forward to allow country sports using dogs became sabotaged by the unfounded and unproven allegation that fox-hunting was cruel, pointless and outdated. Every country sport involving the use of dogs is now under threat. Surely it would have been better to have fought for each sport separately, using different arguments, acknowledging that urban-dwelling do-gooders tend to hold views based on a lack of understanding and are rarely weakened by self-doubt. Could someone please tell me of a campaign by lurchermen to safeguard their sport? The poor old fox-hunters were left to fight alone against a ban which in time will  affect every sport involving dogs. The precedent is set. Anglers and shooters take note.

 I'm not suggesting for one moment that the pro-foxhunting lobby should have been abandoned to fight alone. I'm suggesting that each country sport should have fought its battle in the best possible way for that sport. Divide your enemies, confuse them, wrong-foot them; use every arrow in your quiver. The class-war waged to oppose fox-hunting would get nowhere if waged against working-class sportsmen with their lurchers, terriers and gundogs. Why should someone with strong feelings about stag-hunting be seen to be supporting a ban on a countryman who goes out in the evening to catch his supper? But that is what happened in effect.

 Sounding hunting horns in Whitehall may make some feel better but it does nothing to educate the public over country pursuits. What did the huge gathering in central London by country sports devotees actually achieve? How many sportsmen and how many clubs went to their local MP's surgery and discussed the whole issue face to face? Politicians hate face-to-face meetings, they rarely have the stomach for eyeball to eyeball plain speaking. How many were confronted by their constituents and 'straightened out'? The tendency is, once the policy of 'we're all in this together' is laid down, there is an automatic human response to believe that everybody else is acting--and they clearly were not!

 The RSPCA relies on public money to do its work; no income, no charity. The reality of this is being realised now as animal welfare is sacrificed by that organisation on the altar of moral vanity. It would not be tasteful to sabotage the good work done by so many RSPCA staff, but misguided people misdirecting a once loved national institution, have to be countered. For a charity to spend millions of pounds campaigning at the expense of its animal welfare work on the ground is a national scandal but who is exploiting this appalling situation? How many sportsmen are campaigning against the one body pulling all the strings in the ban-hunting body? Sportsmen, for all their bluster, are now the weakest link.

 In July 2001 I wrote an article in this publication entitled 'Ban it--the argument of tyrants'. The Editor subsequently bumped into Richard Course, the former Chief Executive of LACS, no underpowered lobbyist himself. He supported my desire to focus on the method of control that causes the least amount of suffering, rather than attempt to argue the absence of cruelty at all. He also stated that everyone at the Countryside Alliance should be made to read my piece. A canny pro-hunting advocate would have listened to a wily campaigner such as Richard Course, but the pro-hunting lobby was for me not distinguished by its canniness.

 For all country sports to be under threat because of an anti-foxhunting campaign based on ignorance and prejudice is more than tiresome. I will always stand up for fox-hunting. But I am not at all impressed by the way the opposition to the anti-hunting bill was conducted. I am not at all pleased with the way the antis have been allowed to sink every ship in the fleet with just one salvo, rather than merely influence its course in difficult waters. When I lived in the great sporting county of Shropshire, again and again I met sportsmen who assured me that no attempt to ban country sports would ever succeed in Britain. Again and again I tried to persuade them to wake up. It is no solace to me to hear that various police forces have said that the ban is unenforceable; the act legitimising the ban should have been 'undraftable', and it would have been if the same sort of canniness had prevailed in the sporting world as in the weird world of the morally vain. Anglers and shooting men get your act together but don't mention the words 'countryside' or 'alliance'. Conscientious stupidity is for losers.