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The Hunting Pact 2015: We're All in This Together

21/07/2015 14:14 BST | Updated 19/07/2016 10:59 BST

Since receiving the mandate to turn the UK blue, the Conservatives have wasted little time in outlining some major potential policy overhauls, the germs of which one must imagine have sat since 2010 in a pipeline clogged by coalition government.

No matter our opinion on these changes, there's no denying that the subject of some of the government's most controversial reviews - the benefit budget, NHS and the BBC - are so prominently in the public interest as to warrant political priority.

If we are in non-partisan agreement on the major issues facing the UK, then equally we can agree that this makes the current focus on foxhunting all the more incongruous. I say all the more incongruous, as there have been but a handful of legal challenges to the Hunting Act 2004 and little to indicate a change in public support of the legislation, which several polls place at 70+%.

Nevertheless, David Cameron continues to push for a free vote on a legislative amendment, namely to increase the number of dogs that can be veritably used to "flush out" foxes. The vote has been postponed following SNP opposition, and whilst the future of foxhunting is uncertain, what's more uncertain is why this is even back on the agenda.

Writing in County Alliance in April 2015, Cameron outlined his "firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt." He describes this as a belief rather than a right, but since he supplies no clarification for this statement, one infers that he assumes his reasoning to be self-evident; nevertheless, the key word is "people".

Freedom is a cloudy subject, particularly once the freedoms of others enter the equation. By definition, the freedom to hunt cannot co-exist with an animal's freedom from slaughter. There are two conceivable reasons why Cameron and other proponents of hunting recognise a person's right to hunt above the animal's right to life.

Firstly, there is the argument from conservation, that foxhunting is a form of pest control. The 2015 Conservative Manifesto promises to protect hunting "for all [its] benefits...to the environment", but these benefits are not made explicit. Besides, to my recollection the election campaign was free from tales of out of control mammalian populations or the increasing threat foxes pose to agricultural economy.

In fact, later in the aforementioned article, Cameron goes on to say "I am proud of our country's rural identity - and my own rural heritage." Whilst this statement is not to justify the hunt explicitly, clearly hunting is a part of this heritage. Seemingly tradition is the greater concern than environment.

Considering the Conservatives determination to convince the electorate we're "all in this together", pushing for an activity traditionally associated with the English gentry seems less like togetherness than division. And one needn't imagine how the media would respond if a group of hooded youths walked their dogs through urban streets in pursuit of foxes.

Despite the class cultural undertones of Cameron's motivations, this doesn't explain the support that he will no doubt receive from working class pro-hunters.

For many of us who believe a creature's right to life or to be free from suffering overrides the right to recreation, it's a self-evident point that doesn't need defending. Still, it's articulated beautifully by the 19th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs pain in this world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to compare the feelings of an animal eating with those of the animal being eaten.

Can any ethically serious person claim that the purported pleasure of hunting outweighs the suffering of the fox whose intestines dangle out its dying body?

Of course, no moral person would don a red jacket and hunt for humans. People who wilfully inflict suffering on other people are called psychopaths; people who wilfully inflict suffering on other animals are called sportsmen.

I doubt we should deem as sport any activity for which the main objective is the cessation of a sentient being. We should take hunting for what is: one of the cruellest examples of our anthropocentric culture and the abhorrent belief that the most banal of human interests is worth an animal's one and only chance to experience life.

Most of us recognise these basic animal rights. Indeed, one of the aforementioned challenges to the fox hunting ban came in 2009, in the form of an unaccepted application to the European Court of Human Rights. The court judges clarified that "not every activity a person might seek to engage in together with others was protected" by the convention of human rights. May it remain so.

Still, some argue that the ban has done nothing for animal welfare, that the Act has not saved a significant number of lives. Could you conceive of quantifying human life in such terms? Could you imagine the uproar if a US senator argued against gun control by saying that an insignificant number of children would be saved?

The barbaric and purposeless suffering of a sentient being is what galls protestors and is ultimately what motivates their protestations; however, I'm doubtful that emphasising the animals suffering will be an effective form of protest. Sure, it will be imperative when educating people about the realities of the hunt, but it will have little effect on the legislators, who know the suffering involved, in some cases having witnessed it firsthand.

Whilst foxhunting is debated in the Houses of Parliament, the real battleground is in our culture; the war will only be won once we all agree that no single animal can be objectified in pursuit of freedom, and we recognise their most basic right to be a free subject, a right that requires no false distinction between humans and animals.