by   David Hancock

The biggest single issue in the debate over country sports has long been fox-hunting; it arouses the greatest emotional response and allows every other country sports outlet to be minimized. Facilitating that is a fundamental error, allowing the opponents of country sports to home in on the most contentious issue.. The whole debate now seems to rest on 'hunting with dogs', but most country sports do not involve 'hunting' in the public conception of the word. No countryman going out with his lurchers  says that he is going 'hunting'. Those using terriers, go 'ratting'. Why on earth has this debate been allowed to become dominated, even monopolised, by hunting? Is it any sense at all to put the very word that creates the biggest backlash on every poster and banner? It's not good tactics. It takes subtlety, stamina and a strategy to change an Act of Parliament; noisy defiance, shouting the loudest or just belittling the opposition's case is not the brightest plan, however much it satisfies the most vocal!

For me, mass rallies mainly make those taking part feel a whole lot better. There is comfort in parading with like-minded people; there is a definite lift in seeing and hearing mass support for what you yourself hold dear. But exactly what good in shaping public opinion and influencing government legislation do mass rallies do? When I lived in London I found mass rallies extremely tiresome, even when I felt they were well-intentioned. The battle for the continuation of country sports is NOT going to be won on the streets of London but in the corridors of power; there is a difference between the two. Everyone of us is represented in Parliament; few of us lobby our representative on issues that matter to us. How can our elected representatives actually represent us if we don't tell them, face to face in their own constituency surgeries, what we feel and why? 

Rudeness to MPs and especially Ministers of State at public functions by country sports devotees has achieved nothing but public distaste and a distinct feeling that there's a time and place for everything except rudeness. How can you win the hearts and minds of town-dwelling citizens if they see and hear vulgar tasteless behaviour towards public figures. It's simply not clever! Few campaigns are won by those who shout the rudest or behave in the most loutish manner. This is a topic for cool heads not hot heads. As Francis Bacon remarked four hundred years ago: "No term of moderation takes place with the vulgar". Let's raise the level of discussion to the highest level not the lowest.
The word 'hunting' is misconstrued by the general public, it is abused by the media, it is misused by the opposition. Why not draw attention away from such a divisive term? In a nation fond of its dogs, why not campaign to allow an outlet for our sporting dogs? Why leave the best use of words to the opposition? The antics of hunt-saboteurs and many other violent opponents of country sports are those of fascists. When we refer to them and whenever we mention them this is the word to be used. They are attempting to seize the moral high ground - by using immoral methods, and they are getting away with it. They listen to no arguments but their own. They tolerate no discussion. They resort to violence to get their way. They are extremists. They demand total submission to their views. They are totalitarians. They are fascists. In any democracy fascists are unwelcome, especially here. Call them what they are!

Our quaintly structured parliamentary system has delayed the passage of legislation to outlaw the use of dogs in some sporting fields, but this is no time to step back. It is a time to reload with more suitable ammunition. If the best campaign badge we can come up with reads BOLLOCKS TO BLAIR then do we deserve public approval? Do campaigners bearing such a coarse message expect to be taken seriously? By insulting your leaders and offending public taste, what do you achieve? Why not focus on the thousands of ordinary working class voters who take part in country sports? Which is the bigger catchment area of opinion? And why spend limited funds placing large adverts in sporting papers only seen by country sports supporters?

Rather than shouting threateningly about repealing the Hunting with Dogs Act why not quietly and steadfastly point out the benefits of vermin control and the need for the use of dogs as the most humane way of exercising such control. Be positive not negative. Whether we like it or not, we are ruled by a metropolitan elite and an elite not very well informed on country activities. Inform them! Second home owners and rural weekenders are often ignored just because 'they aren't really local'. But they can be allies, they have votes, and we need them! The general public don't want mink decimating our wildfowl population, rats thriving in our barns, rabbits destroying our crops or our spring lambs being savaged. Let them know, convince them, that dogs offer the best way to cope with pests!