May’s fox hunting U-turn is a cynical attempt to claw back votes. But it won’t work

If the Tories really wanted to take action on animal welfare, they'd be clamping down on other bloodsports in the UK.

One of the strangest moments of the Conservatives’ 2017 General Election campaign arrived when Theresa May made a pledge to give Parliment a free vote on fox hunting.

Of course, it’s not surprising that a pack of hardline Tories would salivate at the chance to bring back bloodsport. But it was a peculiar election pitch because the vast majority of the public oppose fox hunting – a majority which recently reached an all time high of 85 per cent.

This decision was symptomatic of the sort of disregard for the public May showed during her abysmal election campaign; resulting in a blow to her standing which she is still failing to recover from to this day. And so this week we saw the latest in her long list of forced U-turns.

Finally buckling beneath overwhelming public pressure against the ridiculous suggestion to bring back fox hunting, she has announced that there will be no vote on the issue during this Parliament.

This is is undoubtedly fantastic news, and it’s important to recognise that this is a huge win for all of us who opposed this regressive plan to bring back the barbarism of fox hunting.

Our outrage was unanswerable, and the Government has been forced to back down. This will have saved the lives of countless animals, and prevented untold levels of physical and psychological distress. I’m thrilled about our victory.

Having said that, it’s also important to recognise that this announcement is not borne out of concern for foxes. It is a cynical and insincere attempt to claw back some votes.

Thankfully, it is unlikely to win anyone over. Much like going after the youth vote with a railcard you can’t even use to get to work, this announcement is unlikely to encourage any animal lovers to put their cross next to a Conservative at the next election.

For anyone truly concerned about animal welfare, this announcement doesn’t go far enough. For starters, rather than just promising not to turn the clock back, May could be ensuring that the Hunting Act is actually enforced – particularly around instances of so-called ‘trail hunting’.

Trail hunting is where hounds are let loose on a predetermined trail of fox urine. Unsurprisingly, this often results in the hounds switching to a real scent, and tearing a living fox to pieces.

What’s more, ‘accidents’ like this can be used as an excuse for ignoring the law altogether, as we have seen alleged during the recent controversy surrounding the National Trust’s decision to continue allowing trail-hunting on their land.

If May really wants to take action on animal welfare, trail hunting would be a good place to start. Or she could put an end to the inhumane and unscientific badger cull, likely to have needlessly killed around 20,000 badgers this year alone.

Or she could call time on the ecological disaster that is grouse shooting. There are countless proactive things May could do for animals (and she is welcome to look at the Green Party’s policies for inspiration). But that’s not really what any of this is about.

The threat to bring back hunting was just one of the tone deaf manifesto commitments which led to May’s calamity in last year’s General Election. Since then, she’s spent a lot of energy trying to course correct.

It isn’t working. Half-hearted concessions to public opinion aren’t going to impress anyone. This announcement does not represent a change of heart (May herself admits that she has not changed her “personal view” of hunting). The truth is that public pressure simply forced this weakened Government back in their box.

Abandoning plans to bring back fox hunting represents a huge win for animal welfare, but we shouldn’t be applauding the Tories for this. It’s hardly an act of benevolence to preserve a ban on bloodsport. It’s the bare minimum we should expect. Instead, we should still be asking why they raked up this decades old debate in the first place.

The answer is that the Conservatives have always been in favour of fox hunting, they have never taken animal welfare seriously, and only when we get them out of power will we be able to deliver real change for animals in the UK.

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party. She tweets here.

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