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Scoop SOL Special Feature: UK Country Mobilization

More than 400 000 people marched in central London on Sunday to highlight rural decline in Britain and defend hunting with hounds. Scoop’s Streets of London reporter Malcolm Aitken spoke to several of the participants, and presents the interviews in full.


Image: Peter Glenser/Countryside Alliance.

Streets Of London Special News Feature

UK Country Mobilization


By Malcolm Aitken

More than 407 000 protesters shouted, jeered, whistled and hunting bugled their way through central London on Sunday, angry at the Blair Government’s alleged antipathy to rural issues and, many, defending their ‘right’ to hunt with hounds. Commentators have described it as the biggest UK protest ever.

Scoop was right there among the tweed, breeches and huntsmen’s hats and pitched some hard questions to a vicar who thinks Prime Minister Tony Blair is vermin and should be put down ‘inhumanely’, a Stars and Stripes-waving north Florida couple who say fox hunting’s a right like gay rights, and Kevin, an Animal Liberation Front (ALF)-supporting San Franciscan with a Mohican, who walked alongside the march wearing a jacket with ‘hunters are wankers’ scrawled on it. And more…



Image: Peter Glenser/Countryside Alliance.

Scoop brings you six interviews (audio transcripts), which can be read separately (following the backgrounder). Our interviewees defended fox hunting for reasons including: the kill’s over with very quickly, it creates employment and it’s a right .

Backgrounder:

The Countryside Alliance (CA), which organized the Liberty and Livelihood protest, has also sent an open letter to Mr Blair outlining ten points under the heading ‘What The Countryside Needs’ and told him to govern ‘for all people.’ The Labour Government has been consulting the CA, the anti-hunting lobby and the Middle Way Group (which promotes a compromise: licensing hunting with hounds), with public hearings in the lead up to supposedly introducing fox hunting legislation. Presiding over the consultation process is Rural Affairs minister, Alun Michael.

Fox hunting was banned in Scotland from 1 August . Labour has been talking about banning fox hunting for years, but anti-hunt campaigners say Westminster has acted indecisively and/or evasively. Blair has been accused of ambivalence and fear of powerful landed interests. Friction has developed between the houses of Parliament with the Lords backing more conservative options but the Commons clearly for a ban. However, the Government has indicated it will force the bill through the Lords if necessary, which it can do. Labour committed itself to dealing with fox hunting in last year’s election manifesto and word on the political street is that Tony Blair wants to deal with it ‘decisively’ soon, but opinion varies on how.

Campaigning To Protect Hunted Animals (CPHA, an umbrella group including the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare), claims the CA has been hijacked by its pro-hunting supporters. The CPHA says many CA members primarily want to express other grievances relating to the countryside: about post office and shop closures, inadequate public transport, low farm prices and the stranglehold farmers say supermarkets have on their incomes. (Scoop spotted a protesting man naked, except for a shopping bag tied around his genitals. His sign read: ‘supermarkets have farmers by the bollocks’).

Murmurs of dissatisfaction from CA affiliated groups that are largely uninterested in fox hunting have been pretty loud at times and a MORI poll conducted at the march (according to the CPHA): ‘revealed three-quarters (73%) do not think the CA should have hunting as its primary campaign issue’.

Yet, one of the key points in the open letter was to ensure hunting legislation is ‘based on the evidence, is just and respects the rights of local communities’. Moreover CA chairman John Jackson says hunting is the ‘touchstone’ issue.

Although many of the placards on Sunday conveyed pro-hunting sentiment, many simply expressed dismay at the plight of farmers in the UK who’ve suffered the BSE crisis and beef ban, low gate prices and the foot and mouth epidemic. Others conveyed frustration at the ‘closing down’ of rural communities with post office and hospital closures.

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Among the more powerful and slightly amusing placard messages were: ‘Buck Flair’, ‘It’s about freedom’, ‘Tony is a Hoe’, ‘We will be your weapons of mass disruption’, ‘New Labour, old fascists’, ‘Fact: Hitler and Goebbels banned hunting’, ‘Come back Guy Fawkes, all is forgiven’ and ‘Blair, You are the Weakest Link, Goodbye’.

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(For more about the Countryside Alliance, and the UK Government and anti hunting responses to the protests, Scoop readers can visit www.countryside-alliance.org, www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page6132.asp and http:// http://www.league.uk.com respectively).

THE INTERVIEWS

The vicar: Rev’d Dr Peter Mullen. - CLICK HERE
American fox hunting representatives: Mr and Mrs C Martinwood III - CLICK HERE
Kevin, the San Franciscan animal liberationist with a Mohican, and 'hunters are wankers’ scrawled on the back of his jacket. - CLICK HERE
Barbara Buglass, television producer from Northumberland. - CLICK HERE
John Pugh, chairman, Welsh Farmers Fox Control Association. - CLICK HERE
Man who didn’t want to be named, service manager for agricultural machinery dealership in Cambridgeshire. - CLICK HERE


*******************************

The vicar: Rev’d Dr Peter Mullen.

Scoop: Are you an advocate of fox hunting?

RevMullen: Yes.

Scoop: This is inconsistent isn’t it, with biblical teachings, and the idea that God created all creatures. Surely God wouldn’t want to see people treating foxes so cruelly.

RevMullen: No the thing about foxes is that they are vermin; they are almost as verminous as the government of England. They are almost as verminous as Tony Blair-not quite. But I therefore think they ought to be put down at every conceivable opportunity, but unlike Tony Blair, who I think should be put down in a most inhumane way, I think that foxes should be put down in a humane way. And, having been a country person for 15 years of my life and having had my hens, you know, eaten to pieces three or four times, I mean, I realise that foxes ought to be put down humanely. Hunting by hounds is the best way to do that.

Scoop: Doesn’t a hunt with hounds typically culminate with the fox being torn apart by hounds?

RevMullen: No it doesn’t. This is myth. This is the urban myth. The fox is killed by the instincts of the hounds…snaps it neck straight away. What happens after that doesn’t matter because the damn thing is dead and good riddance. One wishes that one could say the same about Mr Blair.

Scoop: As big as this march is, you are really representing a minority aren’t you?

RevMullen: No, we are representing the majority.

Scoop: The League of Cruel Sports says at least a 2-1; perhaps a 3-1 split exists favouring a ban. The majority of Britons want to see the end of this.

RevMullen: They haven’t turned out have they? You know, they haven’t turned out as we’ve turned out. That is the awful thing about these people. They are really sort of left wing fascists in that, really, they are old-fashioned puritans like Oliver Cromwell. They want to tell people how to live their lives you know and that is not the way that makes sense to me, the way that we ought to do things.

*******************************

American fox hunting representatives: Mr and Mrs C Martinwood III


Image: Peter Glenser/Countryside Alliance.

Scoop: What on earth are a couple of Americans doing in London supporting fox hunting?

MrsM3: I’m the chairman of the American MFHA [Masters of Fox Hounds Association , of North America]…my husband is a past chairman and we see this as a civil rights issue…absolutely…and, you know, you’ve got Tony Blair who is trying to take away the rights of a minority and we as a minority deserve the same protection as any other minority does and we are law-abiding, wonderful, kind, polite people and he’s treating us like criminals.

Scoop: Is fox hunting very popular in the United States?

MrsM3: Yes, there are 175 hunts in the United States.

Scoop: There’s a widespread perception here in the UK…the League Against Cruel
Sports…

MrsM3: Yeah, yeah, we’re very, very familiar with them.

Scoop: They say various polls have shown by far the majority of Brits really are opposed to fox hunting, what do you have to say about that?

MrsM3: Well, I’m opposed to people that take drugs; I’m not keen on homosexuals. I mean, there are a lot of things. But that doesn’t mean, you know, I think they have their rights too. You know, I mean there are a lot of things that I don’t like, but it doesn’t mean I want them banned, although I certainly think drugs being banned is a good thing…

Scoop: So you see this as a minority rights issue to some extent…just like gay rights?

MrsM3: Absolutely, absolutely and I see it as much ado about nothing.
(microphone over to Mr C Martinwood III)

Scoop: The League Against Cruel Sports says that typically a hunt culminates in a fox being torn apart by hounds. That sounds cruel. What do you have to say about that?

MrM3: That is unequivocally wrong. I’ve hunted a pack of hounds for 30 years.

Scoop: Tell me what happens normally at the end of a hunt.

MrM3: What happens is if the hounds actually catch up with the fox, he’s killed by the first hound that grabs him, period, end of sentence. He is not torn apart, he is not thrown to the hounds while alive. Yes, the hounds, following on after the fox is dead will eat the fox, that’s part of the kill. What they do naturally. Foxes eat rats. Cats eat birds.

Scoop: Do you think it’s an effective form of culling?

MrM3: In certain areas.

(microphone back to Mrs C Martinwood III)

MrsM3: It is not an animal rights issue. It’s class warfare and even that is ridiculous, it’s looked at as an aristocratic sport. It is not at all. It is the most egalitarian of sports. People from all walks of life, all ages…all sexes, anybody can do it. I hate to tell you this but we’ve got to go.

*******************************

Kevin, the San Franciscan animal liberationist with a Mohican, and 'hunters are wankers’ scrawled on the back of his jacket.

Scoop: I can see what you’ve got there on your back…ALF…and you’re saying ‘hunters are wankers’…have you been in this vicinity today?

Kevin: I’ve been here since twelve o’clock.

Scoop: What have you been doing?

Kevin: Yeah, [pointing at a stretch of road and gesturing]…up and down.

Scoop: And, have you had any hassle?

Kevin: Yeah.

Scoop: Anything major?

Kevin: Yeah, from the National Front [a small far right, British anti-immigrant political party, some of its members are known for their ‘street politics’].

Scoop: The National Front are here are they? So why are you so opposed to fox hunting?

Kevin: I’m into animal liberation.

Scoop: The people that I’ve spoken to today who are pro fox hunting say that when a fox is killed it is very quick, it’s not cruel. What have you got to say about that?

Kevin: Well, it’s torn apart while it’s alive, by loads of dogs...rip it apart…that’s not quick.

Scoop: There’s also the argument that fox hunting is a form of culling as well.

Kevin: Well, there are better ways of doing it than that. Personally, I don’t believe in culling them anyway. But if you have to cull them, like, do it a humane way. Hunting is not humane. That is a sport.

Scoop: Have you been here with other people, or just by yourself?

Kevin: I’m by myself.

Scoop: What should the government do about fox hunting?

Kevin: Ban it, totally.

Scoop: What do you think of the media coverage in this country of the issue. You know, about fox hunting, should it go, or should it stay?

Kevin: Well up to today, I’ve been watching the news trying to find out about today and it was all crap. All it showed was the fox hunting people getting ready from the countryside to come up here. They didn’t show anything else other than their side on the TV. I was really disappointed with that because knowing your TV…well…TV over here is normally, like, quite unbiased.

Scoop: You’re an animal liberationist. What are your core beliefs?

Kevin: You don’t hurt animals, you know.

Scoop: How would you describe yourself politically?

Kevin: Hard statement. I’m not a hippy; I’m not left wing.

Scoop: You’re not left wing?

Kevin: No hell no, I’m not right wing either.

Scoop: What form did this hassle from the National Front take, were you actually attacked, or?

Kevin: Well, I was walking down here earlier and they were shouting abuse…actually one of them got arrested up there about ten minutes ago. The cops were hassling me about my jacket…

Scoop: What were they saying?

Kevin: They said ‘are you aware that we’ve been following you fuckin’…excuse me…’following you all day’ and they said ahh…there was like four cops around me…and they started saying, like…’ahh…what’s on the back of your jacket?’, searched me and stuff…and this National Front fucker started shouting something and got abusive, so they arrested him…it took four of them to take him down. So I thought ‘woohoo’ [laughs]. I Ieft really quickly.

*******************************

Barbara Buglass, television producer from Northumberland.


Image: Peter Glenser/Countryside Alliance.

Scoop: What organization are you here with today?

Barbara: I’m here with the Tindall hunt, which is from Northumberland, north-east England.

Scoop: Yes, are you primarily here as a huntswoman?

Barbara: Yeah, I hunt, but I also come from a farming background. My parents were farmers and I’m concerned what’s happening to farmers and the British countryside in general.

Scoop: When you say you hunt, what sort of hunting are you talking about?

Barbara: I fox hunt. I’ve fox hunted since I was five years old: so it’s something that I’ve grown up with.

Scoop: There are a lot of people here, people I’ve spoken with, suggesting this is really an issue of minority rights…in terms of the countryside not having its traditions trammelled by the rest of Britain. It would appear, though, from my understanding that the vast majority of people in Britain are opposed to fox hunting. What do you have to say about that?

Barbara: I think perhaps initially the vast majority of people were opposed to fox hunting, because basically they didn’t have the facts right and I think more people are changing their opinion, because they’re getting more information and…um…they just haven’t got this narrow-minded vision that fox hunting is cruel. I think in a way we have been our own worst enemies, because over the years fox hunting hasn’t been very well publicized, we haven’t been very good with giving the general public information about what happens. But as this information is becoming more and more available to the general public, I think they are changing their minds.

Scoop: There was a report in the science journal Nature recently, which suggested that during the ban on hunting, with the Foot and Mouth ban…fox numbers didn’t rise. In your belief is fox hunting an effective form of culling?

Barbara: Yes.

Scoop: Because this study suggests otherwise you see.

Barbara: I did read about the fact that they think fox numbers haven’t risen. I think they have, because I have certainly in person seen an awful lot more foxes in the last 12 months than I would normally. And, I think it is an effective method of culling because, at least when we catch a fox, it’s killed outright. It doesn’t go away to a long, slow painful death. It hasn’t been poisoned; it hasn’t been caught in a snare…it hasn’t been badly shot. At least when we do get it, it’s killed just like that.

Scoop: Do you think the employment argument is a good one?

Barbara: Yes, I do think it’s an argument and it does employ people and it’s not just the people that it directly employs. It’s all the other people that have work through fox hunting: blacksmiths, vets, farriers, feed companies. The knock-on is huge.

Scoop: Please don’t taken offence at this, but one of the arguments used for German concentration camps was that they provided employment….You can’t necessarily use employment and potential employment to defend practices and activities.

Barbara: But why shouldn’t people have a choice of how they earn their living? People who work in hunting, are country people, why should they have that choice removed from them?

Scoop: There seems to be a lot of antagonism here today, towards Tony Blair in particular…would you say that’s a fair comment?

Barbara: Yes, I would.

Scoop: And, why do so many rural Britons seem to dislike Tony Blair so much?

Barbara: Because, I think, when he said he would ban fox hunting, it was originally, I think, on a politics programme called Tonight. And I think at the time he was clutching at straws, for something to say that his Government would do. And he said ‘I’ll ban fox hunting’, without thinking of the consequences. And I think people think ‘we’re law abiding people and we haven’t done anything wrong. There are so many atrocities out there in the world. You know, they should be hunting right now for the murderers of that little girl, Milly Dowler [The body of Milly, 13, who went missing from her home in March, was found in a forest in Hampshire last Wednesday]. Why pick on us, we are law-abiding people.’ The money that he’s [Blair] wasting on this should be going into schools, it should be going into hospitals, our National Health System is really in a total uproar at the moment. That’s why people feel so angry, because we haven’t done anything wrong.

Scoop: Do you think fox hunting will be banned in the UK quite soon?

Barbara: I think there will be a mid way ground. I think the concession…my personal opinion is, I think the concession, unfortunately, has been Scotland. I don’t think he will ban it in England. But I think he might have to go with a mid way ground…i.e. they will license fox hunting.

**********************

John Pugh, chairman, Welsh Farmers Fox Control Association.

Scoop: You support fox hunting, I can see that. Not everyone is here today, but a lot of them…

JP: I am equally 50-50 here because of the state of the countryside in general. I am a hill farmer in Wales and I have gone through six winters with cattle I don’t want. They are trying to destroy not only hunting, fishing and shooting, but everything within the countryside.

Scoop: So do you think this is an intentional ploy by the Labour Government to actually, what, destroy the countryside? Surely the government doesn’t want the countryside destroyed, it doesn’t suit anyone.

JP: They want if for themselves, but unfortunately they are not equipped to look after it. The only people that can look after the countryside is what are here today.

Scoop: What about the post offices, things like that, are you talking about service provision in the countryside?

JP: Oh, stop it, it’s everything.

Scoop: These post offices are economically not viable are they? We can’t afford [great cheer from crowd] to have post offices out in the middle of nowhere.

JP: We deserve post offices. We deserve good roads. We deserve a government that looks after the countryside. The people of the city likes to come out to view it. Conservation does not come cheap. That can only be brought about by the people who have been there for generations.

Scoop: It’s a small minority of Britons who live in the countryside.
JP: Never mind. We are damn good workers. We’ve done a good job because the majority of the triple SSSIs [Sites of Special Scientific Interests are protected sites of particular conservation interest because of the wildlife they support, or their geological features] is in the upland areas of this country. So therefore the people who have been there for generations have done a good job.
Scoop: Fox hunting is the preserve of a very small minority of Brits, a very small minority. This is the sport of a few privileged rich people.

JP: It is not a sport. It is looking after the countryside by controlling vermin. The most humane way of controlling vermin is with the hounds and terriers and the people who are here today.

Scoop: Whoa…the noise…[hunting bugle sounds]…thousands of people cheering loudly nearby]…

JP: Yes, it’s bloody lovely.

**********************

Man who didn’t want to be named, service manager for agricultural machinery dealership in Cambridgeshire.

Scoop: So what are you here for primarily today?

Man: What am I here for today.…I am here to support all my colleagues who have come from all corners of the countryside, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, they have all come here for one common purpose: to be heard. We have a problem, there is a man who is at the top of this country, whose name is Tony Blair. He’s blind to the problems in the countryside; he just does not want to know. He’s focused on urban matters and that sort of thing and he just wants to try and shut down the countryside for some reason.

Scoop: Let’s get a bit more specific. What issues are the most important for the British countryside at the moment?

Man: Livelihoods. Particularly in farming. I am here for a farming reason. We have customers….I work for farm machinery dealers, we repair machinery for them. It’s very, very evident, the lack of cash nowadays, because of cash problems in farming…and it frightens me the number of customers, account holders we have seen fall off their perch in the last two years, three years. That sort of thing. I’ve brought a message to London, saying ‘save are our rural jobs’ and that is exactly why we are here.

Scoop: You could just say that’s just business, some people win and some people fail.

Man: Ahh….If you like. But I was born as a rural person. I have two sons that want to come into the rural industry…[more nearly overwhelming noise…hunting bugles blown loudly in unison, massive cheers go up as a sign held up by a couple of supporters shows that another total has been exceeded on the counter at the end of march…numbers were being relayed back to where the sign was, on a balcony in a building on Pall Mall near Buckingham Palace] This is good, this is good. I hope everybody can hear this. This is why we hope to have 300 000-plus people here to just get the message across to Tony Blair, that he has got to take notice of us. He’s blind. We need somebody that’s opened eye to the countryside. You as a kiwi know, I know there 3.2 million people in New Zealand, there’s 70 million sheep, you’ve got 20-plus head of sheep per population…I just wish we had more people listening to rural issues here.

Scoop: Can we get onto the rather contentious area of fox hunting…are you pro-fox hunting?

Man: I’m on the fence. This march is for all aspects of rural. Some people are here to save fox hunting. I’m not personally against it or for it. I’m here to try and see a future in farming.

Scoop: Have you been perturbed by the closure of rural post offices and services like that?

Man: Absolutely, yes.

Scoop: What should the Government do about this?

Man: That’s a good question, but they shouldn’t be shutting them down.

Scoop: They’re economically not viable though…

Man: I’m not really a political man. I’m a countryside boy with a very, very passionate heart and I think it is a very, very, very great shame to see post offices in rural areas shut down. Yes, okay. I understand business and things aren’t viable sometimes. But there are ways of subsidizing them from areas that do make money and I think it’s a need, it’s not an economic viability. It shouldn’t be viewed in those terms; it is something that is absolutely necessary.

**********************

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com

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