Friday, November 19, 2004

Casus belli
Last night the Commons allowed the 1949 Parliament Act to be invoked in order to force the Hunting Bill into law.
The trouble with this bill is the misconceived argument on both sides, for it has precious little to do with either vermin control or cruelty to animals. These are simply veneers of logic and reason applied to try to disguise an argument that is largely emotional but also something much more basic and much more sinister (in both English and Latin senses).
A farmer friend once told me that there are seven mammals and four birds officially classed as vermin, which I assume to mean they are neither protected species nor have a close season. Historically they were no doubt unwelcome because they fed on crops, livestock, or young game. The mammals include rats, grey squirrels, rabbits and foxes. The best way of dealing with the last three is by competent shooting; for rats, a pair of good Jack Russells is effective, as is my father in law’s weapon of choice, the pressure hose. A colourful, choreographed pursuit on horseback with a pack of hounds is simply not cost-effective.
But if you think you have a rational approach to animal cruelty go to the supermarket, look at the pre-packed meats and ask yourself how did those tidy, neatly packed, near bloodless, often boneless, oh so reasonably priced pieces of protein get there? Some people are probably only subconsciously aware that the various parts were once a whole with a head, skin, blood and four legs and a tail. They used to eat, drink, defecate, urinate, copulate (if they were lucky and it wasn’t done for them) and give birth. What they almost certainly didn’t do was associate, find or choose their own food, exercise or in some cases even see daylight, smell fresh air or feel the sun or the rain on their backs. It is a monstrous hypocrisy to put the ‘suffering’ of the wild fox, entirely in keeping with its way of life and habitat, above what we do to domestic livestock to satisfy our ultimately unsustainable craving to eat cheap meat while avoiding any knowledge of, let alone respect for, its origin.
So if you want to make war on vermin get a gun; if you want to make war on animal cruelty either go vegetarian, buy meat of known provenance or be as honest as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and be a part of the process with your animals. If you want to make class war join the Labour party and pretend your nimby instinct to stop other people enjoying themselves in ways you don’t like has a moral, logical or ethical justification. For a nimby is what you are – a modern puritan who feels any activity, sport or recreation that he does not personally care for or cannot see the point of or finds ‘elitist’ or condemns because he thinks it expensive (this alone often grounds for scorn), should be banned.
The movement to get hunting made illegal has been widely presented as a blatant act of class war, but the government does not seem to have considered more than the opening skirmishes. This one will most certainly not be over by Christmas because it is not just, or even primarily, a class war, another misconception in the debate. It is about choice, freedom, individuality and tolerance and ultimately about democracy. It has exposed this government for the shameful, weak, unprincipled coalition of small minds, parochial interests and feeble intellects that it is. The government will now try to blame the Lords for the uproar and chaos that will follow, cynically pretending that it has given the upper house every chance to reach a reasonable compromise. That is another hypocrisy that I hope comes back to haunt it. For the Lords, in what will now almost certainly be its last significant stand against prime ministerial patronage and final emasculation, has done what it is there to do, what the constitution requires of it and what the people have a right to expect. It has fought a pernicious piece of ill-conceived, undemocratically motivated legislation to the only final honourable conclusion: the ‘kamikaze’ option. As the campaign of civil disobedience and legal challenges unfolds, peaceably I hope, it is probably too much to hope that New Labour’s puritans will come to realise that there is a difference between a majority and a mandate on a single issue, or that they are put in the Commons to govern not to dictate, but I fervently hope that they will reap the whirlwind of their arrogance from an electorate that is surely wiser and more democratic than they.