THE BLOG

Outfoxed? Does Omission Of Hunting From Queen's Speech Mean The Case Is Closed? Not Necessarily

22/06/2017 15:41 BST | Updated 22/06/2017 15:42 BST
moodboard via Getty Images

With the ermine robes and a crown being carried on a cushion, it may not have looked it, but this was a 'slimmed down' Queen's Speech. Falling close to Trooping the Colour and following a snap election, some of the usual pageantry was left out.

Yet it wasn't just that pomp that fell by the wayside. One of the most high-profile commitments in the Conservative manifesto - a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act - went without mention.

This is hugely welcome but, given events of the last couple of months, is not a huge surprise. Because, like never before, fox hunting was an election issue.

That's not just my view. Buzzfeed analysed what was being shared online during the campaign. Throughout the campaign, hunting was the fourth most-shared topic, ahead of Brexit.

It wasn't just online that it was making a stir, either. BritainThinks ran focus groups with swing voters in marginal constituencies. After social care, the most commonly mentioned manifesto commitment was the Hunting Act. YouGov said that the words brought up most during the campaign were "social care" and "fox hunting".

Candidates - both Labour and Conservative - spoke time and time again about how fox hunting repeatedly came up on the doorsteps. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said Theresa May's comments on hunting were a "turning point" in the campaign. Another Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, said that raising the issue was "very foolish". The victorious Labour candidate in Canterbury - held by the Conservatives for decades - said it was fox hunting that swung it.

Jim Waterson, Political Editor at Buzzfeed, tweeted that "Anecdotally and based on our most-shared data, I really think fox hunting (& ivory ban) cost the Tories some marginal seats".

At the same time all this was going on, League Against Cruel Sports supporters were contacting their local candidates as part of the Votes for Vinny campaign. Tens of thousands of emails were sent, and in the days before polling day, thousands of people logged in to the League website to see how their candidates responded to the pledges.

'Vinny' himself - based on a real fox cub - was in cities across Britain, meeting members of the public and spreading the word about animal cruelty. Candidates from all parties contacted their constituents - and us at the League - to say that they opposed repeal. In the final two weeks of the campaign, an additional 30 Conservative candidates, almost all of whom were elected, said that they would vote against repeal.

So, where do we stand now? Well, with the Queen having failed to mention hunting, it is unlikely that repeal will come up in the near future. Former Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps has said that the Act "stands absolutely no chance" of repeal. Despite the Conservatives losing seats, the number of Conservative MPs supporting the Hunting Act has increased, and is possibly as high as one third of MPs.

The election has made clear how unpopular - not to mention politically toxic - the idea of repeal is.

Yet there is more work to do. The Brexit process may open the door to weakened environmental and animal welfare legislation. Any back door attempt to legalise hunting must be stopped.

More positively, in the last Parliament good progress was made towards tougher sentencing for animal cruelty. That must be seen through.

It is not just politicians that should now be left in no doubt as to how unpopular hunting is. In a couple of months, 'cub hunting' - the slaughter of fox cubs to train hunting hounds - will begin again, and hunting will continue under the false alibi of trail hunting. Public bodies like the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, and the Ministry of Defence continue to allow this on their land. The British public do not tolerate animal cruelty, and neither should those organisations.

With a hung Parliament, the election may have had an indecisive outcome, but in another way, it was utterly decisive. The idea that the Hunting Act should be repealed has been roundly rejected and the hope now is that we can move on from any notion of repeal or weakening.

The British public believes in compassion and they believe that animals should be protected from persecution. With no mention in the Queen's Speech, and no complaints that it wasn't there, politicians surely now accept that. It must be time, therefore, that we seek to strengthen and extend those protections.