Theresa May Is Dead Right to Want to Rescind the Fox-Hunting Ban

The real business of hunting is what the staff do – the hard-working, badly paid, highly skilled country folk.

Though I don’t think much of Theresa May’s paternalistic soft-left politics, I do like her no-nonsense style. That Q&A she did for the Sunday Times where she was asked ‘Sherlock or Midsomer Murders?’ — ‘I’ve watched both’ she replied — was hilarious in its Olympian imperviousness to the convention, established by Tony Blair, that prime ministers must kowtow at all times to popular culture and sentiment.

So too was the extraordinarily unevasive answer she gave when asked recently why she was committed to allowing Conservative MPs a free vote on rescinding Tony Blair’s fox-hunting ban. ‘As it happens, personally, I’ve always been in favour of fox hunting,’ she said.

Me too. But when you’re a mainstream politician — not a maverick backbencher like, say, the brave, lovely and wonderful Kate Hoey — you’re not really supposed to say these things. I don’t recall David Cameron ever being so upfront — and unlike his successor, he has actually inhaled to hounds. So full marks to Mrs May for her almost Trumplike forthrightness and unpredictability.

What I wasn’t so sure about, at least initially, were her tactics. I can’t be the only hunting enthusiast who listened to her words and thought: ‘Shh, Theresa! Don’t remind them we’re still here.’ Obviously none of us wanted the ban. Hunting is unquestionably the noblest sport ever invented, the finest thing any human being (or horse or hound — or fox) can do, and without it Britain would be finished. But in the 13 years since the ban was introduced by Blair — largely as a sop to Labour’s insatiable bloodlust for anything scenting of class superiority — we’ve mostly managed to circumvent it in one way or another by ‘hunting within the law’.

That’s the phrase the huntsman always uses in the (carefully videoed) statement before you all set off from the meet. The hounds are following a pre-laid trail, not cute, lovable foxes, and if, heaven forfend, the pack should stray off course and inadvertently find Charlie instead, well of course you can’t avoid the occasional accident. Which is why — belt and braces — quite a few hunts bring an eagle or an owl with them, to exploit the exemption in the law which allows hounds to flush foxes towards birds of prey. You can’t be too careful, can you?

In the days when my family still allowed me to hunt — a ban which, à la Theresa, I am working to rescind — I used to love joining so many people of all ages and from all walks of life (six-year-olds on ponies; old battle-axes on cobs; nurses; farmers; high-court judges) conspiring to very nearly break what we all knew was an unjust and (-happily) mostly unenforceable law. Hunting is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced in later life to the camaraderie, highs and illicit thrills of early 1990s warehouse rave culture.

But the point about hunting which we fairweather followers are inclined to forget amid the adrenalin and sloe-gin merriment is that it’s not about us. We’re just spectators. The real business of hunting is what the staff do: the huntsman, the whipper-in, the kennel and stable staff. These are the incredibly hard-working, woefully poorly paid, tremendously skilled country folk whose job it is to maintain and hunt the hounds, and keep alive traditions and standards going back centuries.

Read the rest at the Spectator.

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Mr. Delingpole’s Sporting Tour: “I Must Establish a Career Where I Can Afford to Hunt Three Times a Week”

I’m writing this on a Monday morning and I remember the sensation all too well: it’s exactly the same sense of despondency and nostalgic yearning I used to feel after a weekend’s clubbing in the late 80s. Only this time, it’s not an Acid House all-nighter I’m coming down from, but a day out with the “Chid and Lec”, better known as the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray Hunt.

Gosh, what a fun meet. All I can think about is the instant friends I made that day.

When I arrived — as a guest of joint-master Robin Muir — I didn’t know any of them from Adam. But five hours of hard riding and gentle quaffing later, they felt like my dearest mates.

From the 90 or so who were at the meet to enjoy the lavishly generous whisky mac stirrup cups in front of FitzHall, home of Rupert and Louie Uloth, to the 20 knackered stalwarts who stuck it out to the end.

“No sex,” complained our field master, Paul just before our huntsman Adrian “Sage” Thompson blew for home. I thought this was hunt-speak for “not much action.” But it turned out I’d misheard him.

He’d said “No scent. They just can’t pick up the trails.” Which was a bit sad, really, because according to various informed sources who’d heard it from the great Nigel Peel MFH (who began his career with this hunt) we were hunting over some of the best scenting country anywhere in England.

Quite a bit of it was marsh. At times, it almost felt like being cavalry at Passchendaele. Everyone ended up so mud-spattered we looked like a herd of leopards. But despite the conditions and the lack of sport, we did seem to do an awful lot of insane galloping. This often involved some very slippery right angle turns on the edge of stubble fields that you’d never do if you weren’t hunting.

That’s why we all so love hunting, isn’t it? It’s a license to do naughty things.

Read the rest at Horse and Hound.

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The Meaning of Life Is Foxhunting

I have fallen in love with an unsuitable male. My wife isn’t totally happy about this relationship because she recognises how dangerous it is. The problem with Eddie is that his vices are my vices. He’s reckless, an adrenaline junkie who likes always to be up front. Really, a most unsuitable companion for a skinny, breakable family man fast approaching 50.

And did I mention how expensive he is? It’s as bad as having a high-class mistress or a serious cocaine habit, but I’m powerless to resist. I love hunting. I love my mount Eddie Stobart. When I’m riding to hounds, all my worldly cares vanish. It makes me feel like I’ve finally discovered the point of existence. Tragic, isn’t it?

It’s tragic because I know I could quite easily die — or worse. And also because I can’t afford it. A day out with my local hunt, with hireling, will set you back around £300. But really, if you want to get any good at it — which I do, so as to improve my chances of not breaking my neck — you want to be going out at least twice a week. It’s at times like this that you learn seriously to regret those early career choices. If I’d gone into the City and made my fortune, maybe I could have retired early and spent the rest of my days doing what I was really born to do: being a Master of Foxhounds, of course.

The thing I like about hunting is — well, lots of things, actually. But definitely it starts with the horse. I’ve never hitherto thought of myself as a particularly horsey person. As a child I found the local hunt set desperately intimidating. There was a hunting family down the road from us who I always got the impression seriously looked down on Delingpoles. We were just jumped-up Midlands industrialists. They were proper country folk. This hurt. And maybe that’s where it all started. I wanted to show that we were just as good as them.

Still, it would be years before I got the horse bug. I had lessons over the years — at school and later in my university vacations, when I was taught by James Hewitt’s sister Caroline and lusted, fruitlessly, after her stable girls. But the horses were just a means to an end rather than the thing itself: big, intractable, scary beasts with kicking feet and biting mouths and heads that kept yanking sharply forwards so that the reins cut into the tender bits between your frozen fingers.

This is often the way with riding-school horses. Bored and desensitised by having to indulge far too many novices, they rarely do what you want, because they just can’t be arsed. And it’s always your fault, supposedly. You’re not kicking hard enough. But you can’t kick any harder because your leg muscles have collapsed. It’s no wonder so many boys (girls are different: for girls, horses aren’t poor man’s motorbikes but surrogate boyfriends) give up riding before they get any good at it.

Read the rest at The Spectator

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Posted on 24th October 2014Author jamesCategories UncategorisedTags , , , , , , ,

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