Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Anti-hunt campaign back on the political agenda

Political Editor Phil Hornby blogs from Parliament

If you thought the debate about fox-hunting was well and truly over - think again.

Ann Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and an indefatigable anti-hunt campaigner, held a film-show at Westminster, and it wasn't for the squeamish.

It was an hour of footage shot by 'hunt monitors' - people who spend their weekends in the countryside, armed with video cameras, collecting evidence that the ban is being flouted.

Certainly, the film did seem to show that hunting with hounds still goes on, although whether these were isolated incidents, or whether abuse of the law is widespread, it's impossible to say.

Ms Widdecombe recognises that the hunting ban can't be policed properly. So she reckons the monitors should be licensed, and the Crown Prosecution Service ("So weak!” she says) should take their findings more seriously.

There were lots of anti-hunting MPs at the meeting. There were also a few who are pro-hunting, and they didn't seem entirely convinced by her arguments.

A representative of the Countryside Alliance was there too. He seemed convinced that a) there will be a Tory Government in two years' time and b) that Government will overturn the ban.

I can't see it being one of David Cameron's top priorities if he does get to Number Ten, but groups like the Countryside Alliance would put huge pressure on him to act.

If he doesn't, they'd be furious. If he does, the whole can of worms would be reopened. Hunting threatens to dog (pardon the pun) his Premiership, just as it did Tony Blair's.

Apparently Mr Blair could never understand why it was such a big issue, but hunting is one of those topics that really inflames passions, on both sides of the argument.

If the Tories do move to make hunting legal again, one thing is sure. Ms Widdecombe, by then comfortably ensconced in her retirement home in Devon, will re-emerge into public view and fight him all the way.

Tally ho!

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