The 12 December 2019 election night was an excellent night for hunting and shooting, as three out of four target antis lost their seats, and five top countrysports supporters kept theirs.
The night also saw grouseshooting defender Rishi Sunak hold his Richmond (Yorkshire) seat and Mark Spencer his Sherwood seat. Former Labour MP and ex hunt saboteur Chris Williamson, dropped as a Labour candidate over a row about anti-semitism, lost his deposit in Derby North after winning just 635 votes. Among the hardcore antis, only Kerry McCarthy in Bristol East held her seat.
The new MPs inherit a poisonous legacy from former MPs, whose kneejerk anti countryside and anti countrysports agendas leave the new intake with consultations on both the general licences and hunting tourism. The hunting tourism consultation, driven by now ousted MP Zac Goldsmith, was part of a push by antis to gerrymander a ban on hunting tourism from importing foreign hunting trophies to exporting antlers, including button and walking sticks. That anti hunting tourism push made it in to the Tory party manifesto, leading to accusations that Conservative wildlife policy was written by millionaire Goldsmith and the prime minister’s girlfriend, animal rights activist Carrie Symonds.
Here’s what BASC says about the election:
In the short term, the rural agenda will be dominated by the publication of the Werritty review into grouseshooting in Scotland, likely to be out before Christmas. The Scottish National Party may use that as a hammer to break up the Scottish shooting estates that its leadership loathes so much. After that, DEFRA will have to rule on next year’s general licences in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have to do the same. The consultation for general licences in England ended earlier in December 2019. The consultation on the future of hunting tourism, including deerstalking in the UK, ends on 20 January 2020, and a new Tory government can choose to kick it into the long grass or bring in the raft of bans that Goldsmith wants.
None of the political manifestos held good news for country sports. Hunting and shooting may be the greenest leisure activities in the country, but hunters and shooters did not got that message through to the politicians in the run up to the 2019 election.
The Conservatives abandoned the countryside in its manifesto. They dropped their usual manifesto to pledge to repeal Tony Blair’s Hunting ban. The Tory manifesto says: “We will make no changes to the Hunting Act”. Boris Johnson also plans to set up a new rural police force, called the Office for Environmental Protection. This move is part of the bill that made most of its way through the House of Commons but had to be dropped in October to make way for the general election. Boris will reboot the bill if he wins the election. OEP officers will be expected to crack down on livestock owners and wildlife managers with a package of measures including what the manifesto promises will be ‘tougher sentences for animal cruelty’ and new laws on ‘animal sentience’, in line with the Green Party’s manifesto. Former DEFRA secretary Michael Gove’s muddle over what ‘sentience’ means has not dimmed Boris’s enthusiasm for the word. The manifesto also promises to bring in an ivory ban plus a ban on imports from ‘trophy hunting of endangered animals’. This is the measure that’s the subject of a current government consultation, which has been extended to include the export of antler trophies from the UK, including buttons and sticks. Find out more here. The Tories ignore the growing problem of dog theft and, instead, plan to increase ‘measures we have available to tackle cat theft’. The manifesto does not mention DEFRA’s plans to evamp the general licences, in the light of another of its consultations, which ends a few days before the election.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour reiterated its crackdown on countrysports, brought in as a policy document by then shadow DEFRA secretary Sue Hayman, one of the MPs to lose their seats. Its manifesto says: “Labour has published an ambitious animal welfare manifesto which reiterates our commitments to prohibit foxhunting and end the cull of badgers. In England, we will introduce an animal welfare commissioner, prohibit the sale of snares and glue traps, end the badger cull and ban the keeping of primates as pets. We will work internationally to end commercial whaling, ban the importation of hunting trophies of threatened species, and boost police resources to tackle rural and wildlife crime.”
The LibDems at last dropped their illiberal crackdown on trailhunting, which was in previous election manifestos. Although party members cannot be trusted not to harbour fundamentalist animal rights sympathies, the LibDem manifesto is the least damaging of all the manifestos so far to hunting and shooting sports, and contains firm and occasionally laudable proposals for the environment. Its ban on the import of foreign trophies lands a long way short of the Tory proposal to ban the same plus ban the export of trophies from UK deer, including sticks and buttons made with antler. On ‘Animal Welfare’, its manifesto says: “Liberal Democrats believe that all possible steps should be taken to promote animal welfare and prevent animal sufering, with better protection for animals, and full regard for animal welfare. We will:
● Enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law to ensure that due regard is paid to animal welfare in policymaking.
● Introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty ofences, increasing the maximum sentencing from six months to five years, and ensure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit is properly funded.
● Ban the sale of real fur, end the use of primates as pets, clamp down on illegal pet imports and establish an independent regulatory body for horse welfare to prevent the abuse and avoidable deaths of racehorses.
● Improve standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture, including a ban on caged hens, and promote the responsible use of antimicrobials.
● Develop safe, effective, humane, and evidence-based ways of controlling bovine TB, including by investing to produce workable vaccines.
● Minimise the use of animals in scientifc experimentation, including by funding research into alternatives.
● Work within the EU to ensure that future trade agreements require high environmental and animal welfare standards, and legislate to ban the importing
of hunting trophies where the hunting does not contribute to environmental protection.”
The Green Party wanted to nationalise the countryside. Its members cannot get over their own prejudice against hunters and shooters, and recognise the green credentials of countrysports. Its manifesto says: “Ban all hunting. This includes trail hunting, where dogs are used to track foxes who are then shot, and the commercial shooting of deer and game birds. Government subsidies, used to maintain artificial landscapes designed only for hunting (such as grouse moors) will be ended and the land rewilded where possible. Where necessary for ecological reasons, humane culling will be licensed by Natural England and carried out by trained professionals. We will also ban the use of lead ammunition and outlaw all forms of snaring.”
What were the issues in 2019?
For the first time in the 21st century, countrysports played no part in a general election. Part of the news agenda was devoted to ‘the environment’, with a competition between the political parties to promise more tree-planting. Two of the major debates have an impact on countrysports:
State of debate: is the climate change issue good for hunting and shooting?
Some say yes
It gives us an opportunity to show how hunting and shooting sports are good for wildlife and good for the environment.
Some say no
It is too easy for animal rights activists to hijack climate change and add their own twisted messages to it.
State of debate: is Brexit good for hunting and shooting?
Some say yes
The UK won’t be subject to mad European directives banning stuff, and we will be able to remove pointless layers of EU law such as the general licences.
Some say no
The influence of the French farmers means Europe will never ban hunting, but a UK government led by animal rights activists might.