- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

Given our common language, heritage and historic ties, Americans sometimes forget that Britain is a "foreign" country, with customs and concerns beyond our ken.
One reminder that more than an ocean divides our two peoples is the intensity with which fox hunting will figure in the United Kingdom's upcoming elections. In the United States, Democrats boost election-day turnout by dealing race cards and talking abortion rights; in the United Kingdom, Laborites energize their base by promising to end fox hunting. Americans may understand the words, but the message is lost on most of us.
That doesn't mean that Tony Blair's attempt to abolish the hunt by criminalizing the age-old practice should be seen as a parochial issue Americans can dismiss as a manifestation of fabled British eccentricity. On the contrary, the Blair government's anti-hunting policy represents the kind of cynical assault on tradition and liberty that should alarm all freedom-loving people.
To realize why the hunting issue matters to the horseless masses, it's necessary to consider the hunt as it relates to British country life, to the rhythms and traditions that make Britain unique or, rather, used to.
Despite what many Americans believe, neither Anthony Trollope, nor even P.G. Wodehouse had the last word on the British countryside. (For a shocking update, try Peter Hitchens' excellent new book, "The Abolition of Britain," which practically out-slouches Robert Bork's eminent contribution to the Western decline genre.)
As Sir John Mortimer, the quite-liberal barrister, novelist-creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, and surprisingly staunch hunting advocate, said at last year's government hearings on hunting, "There is a feeling in rural communities that everything is being removed. The shop, the bus, the church and pub; and having hunting removed would be the final straw. There is a terrible feeling that we are told by other people how we should lead our lives."
Many Britishers have come to believe that the Labor government, "grounded in urban culture," as Lord Burns, the former civil servant who chaired the hunting hearings, recently put it, doesn't understand its rural communities. A Tory official explained it this way: "The whole New Labor project was based on an image invented in Islington with no real feeling for Britain's history or traditions, many of which are deep-rooted in rural areas."
Such callousness may explain how it is that the hunting ban recently passed by the House of Commons actually criminalizes the act of fox hunting and everyone connected with it, from hunt groups to landowners to dog owners. Is this out of pure empathy for the fox, vicious varmint that he is, or could there be other reasons? Britain's largest landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, once said that anti-hunt politicians are "waging class warfare disguised as animal welfare."
That's surely part of it. Among the casualties, though, are thousands of country people who can least afford to take the hit: huntsmen, saddlers, pub owners, kennel workers, waitresses and hotel clerks whose rural livelihoods depend on the hunt culture. But there is something more at stake. Barry Todhunter, a huntsman of the Blencathra foxhounds, was quoted in the London Telegraph saying the ban would be a "nail in the coffin" for his part of Cumbria, where hunting has been "the heart of the area for generations."
As the newspaper helpfully noted, the Blencathra pack "was immortalized in D'You Ken John Peel?, which was the marching song of the King's Own Border Regiment in two world wars. 'It is part of the culture of our country,' " Mr. Todhunter said.
More than anything, that culture king, country and foxhounds would seem to be the target of the anti-hunt forces, a political lobby supported by increasingly violent animal rights groups, which, even as they have made political gains, have inflicted on perceived opponents numerous assaults, fire bombings and house invasions. A British bishop recently wondered, "Is this an issue where the moral argument is so clear cut that a majority has the right to impose its views on a minority?" Breaking ranks with anti-hunt colleagues, the Right Rev. Paul Richardson, as reported in the Telegraph, puckishly compared fox hunting with abortion, arguing that if it was "deemed impossible to protect foetuses because there was no moral consensus, it should be no different for foxes."
The bishop makes an excellent, if unorthodox, point. "According to the Earl of Onslow," he continued, "the Church of England entered the 20th century opposed to buggery and in favor of fox hunting, but by the start of the 21st century it had reversed its position. The Earl of Onslow has put his finger on a significant point. In terms of public concern, animal rights has moved up in the scale of importance while sexual morality is now seen as a matter of personal choice."
Pity the fox hunter for what better time for his enemies to move in for the kill?



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