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7 Days to Save the Fox

We went into the weekend just about as prepared as we could be. Our shops had postcards for our worried customers to sign, an anti-hunt window display, our staff all altering their rotas to be present at the Parliament demo on Tuesday...

Oh naïve fool that I am; when I woke up on Monday, I had no idea that the week was going to turn into some kind of hell!

Monday morning saw me on a train to London. I was heading to Parliament. Brian and Anne ( from SAVE ME ) were holding a 'Hunting Act Briefing for Labour MPs' in the afternoon, but I was heading to a League Against Cruel Sports event in Parliament.

There, over the usual sparkling drinks and micro-nibbles, we mingled and chatted with a smattering of the great and good; MPs and Lords from both sides of the house who oppose blood sports. Talk was all about the Tory pre-election threat to repeal the hunting act, and their seeming hesitation since. The Hunting Act hadn't been included in the Queen's Speech - it seemed clear that the Government were instead going down the route of encouraging a Private Members Bill on the issue. A rather weaker instrument than a full Government commitment, but still something for those of us in that parliamentary room on Monday to fear.

But I left Parliament that evening feeling buoyed and more confident than I had since the election. The MPs present were saying that we could be quietly confident that the vote on a Private Members Bill would be close, but would keep the Hunting Act intact. The new crop of first time Tory MPs, I was told, are younger, a different generation with more modern priorities. Many of them are anti-hunt and would see no grounds at all to bring back hunting. The Tory majority that we all feared might not be quite the single voting block it once was on this issue.

Tuesday - had a meeting to talk about the plight of Hen Harriers. Still a normal week.

Wednesday followed. Budget Day. Plenty to fear today, but for the sick, the homeless, the jobless. So it was like being hit broadside when I got a fevered phone call in the middle of the day from Tom at The League asking me if I had heard the terrible news. But no, I hadn't. Just like most of the UK, all I could see were the breaking headlines as each new budget measure was announced. This news had certainly gone straight to ground. Clearly the sly foxes here were the Tories, knowing full well it was a great day to bury bad news. With 80% of the electorate, and 70% of your own voters, being opposed to fox hunting, you'd want to find a good day to bury news of bringing it back!

What a clever move on their part. How they'd planned this and kept it secret, even from those Tory MPs I had mingled with two days before, was unfathomable. I'd be impressed with their strategic prowess if it wasn't for the fact this vote means life or death for wildlife already struggling in a changing world of modern farming and industrial countryside management. A Private Members Bill would need to have parliamentary time scheduled for it, meaning those of us opposed to it would have had time to organise once it was announced. Instead they had suddenly decided to tamper with the wording of the existing legislation, meaning they could slot this in quickly amongst normal business and also get to spin it as a 'middle way'. To fool the public by saying they are just making one little amendment - when in truth that amendment takes out the very bit that has led to the bulk of the prosecutions so far under the Hunting Act. In effect that bit of the act has proved the bit with teeth, the working end of the Act which has been most effective at proving hunts had killed illegally. This was politics at its most vicious - leaving those of us who oppose this measure with only 7 days to muster a defence.

So my week suddenly went off the deep end. I have pretty much worn my mobile against my ear since that dreadful news broke on Wednesday. Or should I say since that news slithered out unnoticed on Wednesday! Skype conference calls after midnight became the new norm. People I talk to maybe once a month I suddenly speak to once an hour. We've had to design a window for our shops, get postcards for the public to sign, hassle our printers to stop our usual work and switch to making campaigns materials, organise our involvement in the rally at parliament, liaise with animal welfare groups to ensure we are getting this complicated message exactly right - whilst all the while answering the worried questions flooding us from our staff and customers.

We went into the weekend just about as prepared as we could be. Our shops had postcards for our worried customers to sign, an anti-hunt window display, our staff all altering their rotas to be present at the Parliament demo on Tuesday.

When I finally pushed back my chair and took a breath yesterday, I felt an overwhelming urge to speak directly to my own MP. The best I could do was get someone to grab a camera so that I could email him a video of what I wished I had time to say to his face. I tweeted him with it in the end. It felt good and felt like the most valuable contribution I had made all week - after all, it's our MPs that hold all the power in this situation, so it's up to us to let them know how strongly we feel. I highly recommend you do the same. Sign a postcard if you can. If you can't, then grab your mobile, film a personal message to your MP and send it to their email address or post it to them on twitter. Here's a link to find how to contact them.

And here's my film to my MP, Tobias Ellwood, who, thank god, has a good record on the fox hunting issue. Thank you Tobias, please be in Parliament on Tuesday and build on that good record!!

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