Waitrose sells Horse and Hound magazine.
Didn’t they ban hunting, like, years ago? Yes. Yet Horse and Hound is still there on the hotly contested shelves of the Waitrose magazine rack, and in the posh aspirational section right next to Country Homes & Interiors to boot. I suppose some of the reason for H&H’s survival must be down to upping the quotient of writing about Princess Zara and her horse Toytown and downing the quotient about hunting. Even so, it must be galling for the anti-hunting activist community. Not what they imagined back in the heady days of 2004 when they were offering to help the government and police enforce a hunting ban.
At this point I could either launch into a detailed, link-filled account of whatever it is hunts actually do these days or I could just vaguely mutter some half-remembered stuff about how there is some get-out clause that allows them to chase the foxes with as long as they don’t actually kill them, or if they do it’s collateral damage or done for research or something. I shall do the latter and make a virtue of it, because vague half-remembered perceptions and their political consequences are what this post is actually about.
It didn’t stick. Thirty years plus of campaigning, thousands of letters to the editor, millions of Ban Hunting Now badges, at least three private members’ bills, Royal Commissions galore, keeping the faith in the dark days of Thatcher, then the dawning hope that this Bill might be the real deal, First Reading, Second Reading, Committee, Third Reading… then that last minute farrago with the Parliament Act when the Lords cut up rough, then finally Royal Asssent (through gritted Royal teeth, yeah)… all that and it still didn’t bloody stick. The hunts are still there, shooting foxes by firing squad or whatever they do, and the sabs are still there cutting off peoples’ heads with gyrocopter blades or whatever they do, and when the Tories get in, as they almost certainly will in three months time, they will repeal the ban.
I will rejoice. I have never seen the appeal of hunting, still less hunt-following, but hundreds of thousands of my fellow-citizens seem to like these pastimes, as their ancestors did, and a large proportion of the human race still do. The anti-hunt argument that does have some power to move me is the one about preventing suffering of a creature who can suffer. I myself prefer not to think too deeply about Mr Fox getting killed by dogs – but I do not see that it differs much from what Mr Fox does to rabbits. It’s a predator thing. As for the argument about humans, get lost. On those grounds the new puritans had about the same moral right to stop their fellow humans hunting foxes as they would have to stop their fellow mammals, the foxes, hunting rabbits. Another thing, it bugged me to hear people who, if they were to learn that Amazonian tribesmen, having been forced to give up their ancient traditions of the hunt, had taken to soccer and Playstations instead, would be heard from here to the Amazon squealing about Western cultural oppression – it bugged me to hear these same people cheering on the Western cultural oppression of their own tribesmen.
As well as rejoicing to see these puritans discomfited, I will rejoice because the repeal of the ban is a retrograde step. When one has gone in a wrong direction a backwards step is a good thing. Every generation or so the progressives have the presumption buried in their name for themselves knocked out of them and the whooshing noise is pleasing. Yet for most of the my lifetime their presumption has been justified. The progressive ratchet slips a little but mostly it moves on. What a liberation it would be to see the clock turn back, just to show it could! What strange new vistas it might open if one bad law were repealed. We could repeal some more. The smoking ban… the European Communities Act 1972… it might even have an effect overseas; at present most people seem to assume that President Obama’s historic achievement in passing the US healthcare bill is just that, historic. A historic change is a change that stays changed. But history turns round sometimes, as the original puritans found out to their cost in 1660.
So the repeal of the hunting ban will be a fine thing, and on that morning even I shall hear something of the
Of a running pack before us
From the find to the kill.
But the end of a bad law and the good example its end sets will not be the only reasons to rejoice. Sure, repeal will annoy the progressives but – as the fox understands the huntsmen – a law going against them for once in a while leaves their worldview intact. What I really will value in the repeal is that it will be symbolic completion of a process that has already happened. The Royal Assent on this one may be good fun for her Maj, and me, but the really subversive thing is that people will say, “Oh, they’ve got rid of that law… didn’t know it was still on the books, actually. I’m sure I saw Horse and Hound on sale on Waitrose.”