Every year on Boxing Day, Britain's hunts gather for their annual PR stunt to persuade the public that all is well and animal-friendly in the world of hunting.
But the reality is very different. The hunts are trying to persuade policy-makers to turn back the clock and return us to an 'in'glorious age when it was perfectly acceptable for wildlife to be chased and killed with packs of dogs in the name of 'sport' and 'tradition'.
And as they turn out in all their pageantry, the hunts will claim those watching them from the side-lines are 'supporters' - when in actual fact many will be either on-lookers curious about this bizarre spectacle, or just innocent victims of the Christmas season desperate to get out after a day of being cooped up with querulous relatives and noisy toys.
Cynically, the hunts are busy trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Behind that colourful spectacle hides a murky world of contempt for the law and incident after incident of cruel, shocking and at times illegal behaviour.
It's been an awful year all round for the hunt lobby's cause. They had high hopes when Conservative leadership candidate and now DEFRA Minister Andrea Leadsom expressed her support for overturning the law banning hunting of wild animals with packs of dogs (on the somewhat curious grounds of 'animal welfare'). There was then speculation that Mrs Leadsom would announce plans to do so at her keynote speech at Conservative conference following selective leaks to the press.
Alas, on the eve of her speech a new Ipsos MORI poll revealed record levels of opposition to bringing back hunting. A staggering 84% of people polled said they support the current fox hunting ban. The poll also showed sky-high backing for the ban among Conservative voters and people who live in the countryside. Proposed plans for Mrs Leadsom to announce a vote on repealing the Hunting Act were said to have been hurriedly shelved at the last minute, leaving the DEFRA Minister to deliver a strangely empty speech to conference-goers.
It is possible the poll partly reflected the revelations earlier in the year, also published by the League, which showed live fox cubs allegedly thrown to a pack of hunting dogs as part of their 'training' to become good fox-hounds.
However, it most likely reflects the change happening in society and within the Conservative Party itself. Being pro-hunting is now no longer part of the Conservative DNA in the same way it once was. This was evidenced by the packed event hosted by the League at Conservative conference with the anti-hunting 'Blue Fox' group addressed by Conservative icon Sir Ranulph Fiennes. A growing number of Conservative MPs have said they will vote down any attempt to repeal the Hunting Act. Their number would ensure such a bid would fail, with or without the SNPs votes.
Indeed, if the Government were to attempt to repeat the hunting ban like they did in 2015 and say that their change to the law seeks only to make it consistent with Scottish legislation, they would run into trouble. The Scottish government ordered a law review after David Cameron's failed bid last year to sneak a change to the law under the radar. The review by independent senior peer Lord Bonomy calls for the law north of the border to be strengthened, and the SNP government's plans to do so will make it increasingly difficult for Westminster to go in the opposite direction.
If the revelations about throwing live fox cubs to hounds were not enough, a devastating set of figures have emerged from pollsters. Based on data predictions they suggest that voters across every parliamentary constituency in England and Wales would be opposed to the hunting of foxes, deer and hare being made legal again. The figures underscore the fact that the vast majority of people in Britain see hunting the same way they see bear-baiting - as a thing of the past. Only a tiny, if powerful, minority still hanker for this past.
The message from voters this year is clear: people want animal cruelty crimes prosecuted properly. They want tougher, not weaker, laws to stop animals being persecuted for 'sport'. It is time the hunt lobby admitted defeat, put an end to this Boxing Day charade, and found non-lethal pleasures to pursue.
Along with the clear majority of British people, I would raise a toast to that.Suggest a correction