In conversation with couple of tabloid journalists that I know well I admit I used the “H” word and the “F” word…*
I asked the question above “Why does hunting with hounds allow itself to be the victim of what we now, thanks to Trump call ‘fake news’ The short and unpalatable answer…because we make it easy.
An example. Back in November 2017 there was yet another vote as part of the process of bringing EU legislation into UK law. Part of that process included a provision, that would have officially said that the UK recognises animals can be sentient.
Now this is not new. The Lisbon Treaty includes the specific recognition that animals are sentient (that’s part of article 13 of title II). Because that wording was transferred to UK law as part of being in the EU, the British government also must act in keeping with that legislation, until Brexit.
However the vote was rejected because the government felt there was a better route to the same objective using a current legislative route.
As a result, campaigners and extensive biased news coverage claimed that the Government had voted against recognising sentience. The Independent was among publishers that reported the story in that way. However, it quickly became clear that this claim was not right, even though it had been deliberately misinterpreted by some campaigners in that way. “Put simply, what happened is this: MPs did not vote that animals are not sentient creatures…
“The Tories have rejected all scientists and voted that animals don’t feel pain”. The Evening Standard claimed they “just voted that animals cannot feel pain or emotions” now the Evening Standards editorial team have no love for the current government but this does not absolve them of the lack of basic fact checking. The ‘Independent’ them compounded their initial error by then ‘naming and shaming’ the Tory MPs “who voted legislation on animals feeling pain and emotion”. What followed was a social media barrage of anti-government hysteria picked up by repeated celebrities who should know better, such as Ben Fogle and Sue Perkins and politicians including Caroline Lucas. Petitions were contrived and quickly circulated signed by hundreds of thousands of unwitting animal lovers. Analysis shows 2 million people have seen articles and tweets about the Tories voting against animal sentience
Following the furore, the Independent retracted its story claiming that “the Tories have rejected all scientists and voted that animals don’t feel pain” and admitted that it circulated false information to potentially millions of people. In a clarification published days later, the Editorial Staff were at least honest enough to state that the initial report “was not right”:
It is difficult to state with any certainty why the factually incorrect news escaped editorial and legal overview before being published or whether the journalist concerned has been sanctioned. However, it is true to say that the original story was shared thousands of times and was a key factor in half a million people signing a petition repeating the claim, often accompanied by hysterical and threatening additions. No doubt it did the on-line and print sales of the Independent no harm whatsoever. The facts above also show that some people cannot or will not distinguish their ‘love of animals’ and the need for nebulous animal rights from the much broader and more important issue of animal welfare.
So, why is this relevant to hunting with hounds?
Because within days of this debacle Labour produced what they called their 50 Point Plan For Animal Welfare which was introduced with as much spin as an automatic washing machine and Orwellian double speak that it seems to have been drafted by an inner city primary school.
“From bringing forward the Hunting Act to protecting the treatment of domestic animals under the Animal Welfare Act, Labour has always placed the welfare of animals high on the policy agenda.”
Except of course it wasn’t – forced through by the misuse of the Parliament Act the real reason for the Act was as a sop by a Blair government to a feisty left wing ““This has nothing to do with animal welfare – this is for the miners.”(Dennis Skinner MP) and from Peter Bradley MP “ “Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it : the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war.”
“Enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, closing loopholes that allow for illegal hunting of foxes and hares.” But the Act was drafted for the Labour government by a group of anti-hunt organisation. The loop holes are legislative provisions not cynical legal subterfuge
The announcement continues “Labour is clear that our animal welfare obligations go beyond domesticated animals. Unlike the Conservatives who have championed fox hunting and last year gave the green light to the highest ever number of badgers being killed across England, Labour are exploring ways to further enhancing the Hunting Act and bringing forward a ban on the badger cull. We will seek to promote high standards with regards to game shoots, tackle criminality, and promote sustainability.” And if by this stage your emotions are not causing you to vent your fury online they end with “Today whales, dolphins and other marine animals face a variety of man-made threats including hunting, ship strikes, chemical pollution, entanglement in fishing gear and issues arising from climate change.” Although in fairness they don’t claim they will actually do anything about the issues raised in the last sentence.
Much to their frustration, the ‘chocolate box vision of the countryside’ championed by some day time television programmes together with campaigning self-righteous organisations promoting the ‘right to roam’ exists its current form because of NOT in spite of hunting, shooting and to a lesser extent fishing.
Our current challenge (apart from our ability to continue to score ‘own goals’) is that hunting with hounds has no one exclusively to represent its interests to a hostile media. It is not what the Hunting Office do, neither is it now a corner stone of the broad church that is the CA.
This is not a bad thing in fact the need for a more comprehensive rural voice in politics was acknowledged by a Labour activist who responded to Labour’s 50 point plan with the following incisive comment:-
“the protecting animals manifesto and the pledge to end the badger cull was very popular in XXXX with Labour Party activists and the many animals rights groups that operate in the area’ , but added ‘in the future we need to ensure that we focus on rural issues that most people worry about. Rural issues shouldn’t be confused with animal welfare issues.” In other words just the sort of things the CA now champion.
Meanwhile jumping on the groundswell of ‘animal welfare’ hype several petitions were released into the social media frenzy for ‘animal rights’ such as this one.
Despite its obvious factual inaccuracies this petition picked up on the tendency of both media an government to react to a social media story in a knee-jerk fashion.
Despite the fact that less than a quarter of ‘the signatories’ have any legitimate influence over UK government the petition was acclaimed as successful. Since hounds regulate their body temperature by opening their mouth whilst running the human equivalent of a marathon muzzles would only result in a large group of asphyxiated hounds- hopefully an unintended consequence but with some respondents to the petition it was difficult to tell – many just came across as hysterical cat owners, many others just class driven sociopaths. To grasp how ludicrous the muzzle suggestion is, think of running a marathon with your mouth taped up so that you cannot take on liquid whilst wearing a skin tight ski mask, you will quickly realise that the suggestion in the petition has no place in any adult animal welfare debate.
What hunting’s emotionally incontinent opponents deliberately overlook are the inconvenient facts; nothing is more animal welfare centred that hunting with hounds and the Hunting Act has not saved the life of a single fox or hare.
We accept that you might not like the idea of something you have never seen – even a ‘professional anti’ was recently forced to admit in court that in 13 years of anti hunt activity (which must amount to at least 1200 days) he had only actual witnessed four occasions when hounds caught a fox. But there are never any wounded foxes or hares. A claim that cannot be made with any credibility for shooting or the unintended consequence of a collision whilst driving on rural roads -if you hit a fox it is quite likely to run off wounded. The unfit quarry is caught the young fit quarry escape. There is no concept of an animal being terrified, a broad body of anecdotal evidence such as the fox running through a farm yard which stopped, backtracked and grabbed an unwary chicken before continuing to evade hounds and whilst keeping the chicken as its prize demonstrates that. Real hunt and hound followers applaud such cheek!
Our own comparison chart which we urge you to download (its free) and examine was given to the journalists concerned causing lots of positive discussion, but we need to build on those efforts. Now.
Currently we are pawns in a game where we do not know the rules and in which the there is no umpire to oversee fair play..and we wonder why were are losing public confidence. ‘Negative’ words like ‘tradition’ should be replaced by ‘convention’ The welfare of hounds, quarry and the wider animal population and the utility of hounds over any alternative, must be forefront in the any future plans for hunting.
We need a single body prepared to engage when necessary with our detractors and cynical journalists not just preach to the converted. We need body that has the vision to say that any return to pre Hunting Act days is not a good thing; that regulation and self governance with appropriate PUBLIC sanction and teeth are the way forward. A body that promotes the social conscience of hunting people and the massive amount of work they do unseen for their local community and finally one that is inclusive not exclusive. A body that promotes the profesional knowledge of time served huntstaff above a ‘socal commentator’ ‘with a 3rd class degree in social policy.
Only then will we be able to make the news again rather than be a victim of the fake version. We have every confidence that this can be achieved, and approached in the right way, we have elements of the media willing to listen.
*Hunting and Fake for clarification. (feature image courtesy of David Ryan)