Crushing Britain’s Rural Minority

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

It looks like the Labour majority government is about to lay down the hammer on rural Britain with a ban on fox hunting, despite the fact that it has been an English tradition for centuries. The looming economic loss has already had political consequences.

To many, fox hunting may seem like a cruel anachronism, but it is part of the fabric of rural life in the United Kingdom. Not only does it employ thousands of people in related activities, the sight of scarlet-clad horsemen coursing over the English landscape reminds people of the glories of that country. In fact, a fox-hunting word was the Battle of Britain’s war cry, as pilots would shout “Tallyho” – the hunter’s signal that a fox had been sighted – just before they dived at raiding German planes.

Despite the environmental value of controlling fox populations, in terms of game bird survival and rabies reduction, the urban-dominated and class-conscious government of the day has decided to impose its iron will over an increasingly vulnerable rural minority. Of course, urban MPs do not have do deal with the fallout of lost jobs and rabies.

“So what?” you may say. “We should get rid of such old-fashioned things.” The same thinking inspired a ban on the spring bear hunt in Ontario. The lost rural jobs in the tourism industry there were supposed to be the target of a “program” to help displaced workers. It never happened. No doubt the British government’s promise to do the same will also suffer that fate.

That they will probably get away with it is as much a testament to the enfeebled British Tory opposition as it is to the issue itself. A strong opposition party serves a real purpose, to temper the authoritarian impulses of majority governments, especially when the government thinks that it is but one election away from being in opposition itself. Think about that in Canadian terms and you’ll know what I mean.

The trouble with the fox -hunt ban in the U.K. relates to where this issue is going. Emboldened by their victory on the fox-hunting issue, animal rights activists will soon be pressing their case to eliminate other forms of animal use. Various such groups in the U.K. are moving to ban angling and much of modern agriculture. These groups exist in Canada as well, and are only too willing to use “victories” in other countries as templates for further action here.

An encouraging sign in the U.K. is the presence of the Countryside Alliance; a coalition of rural interests that started out as defenders of the fox hunt but soon expanded their mandate to include a defence of the entire scope of rural life. These are the people who put 400,000 people on the streets of London a couple of years ago, and I think we can expect a similar event in the near future.

We need to start thinking about a Countryside Alliance for Canada, and soon.