When Francis Thompson wrote his dramatic, Christian and pro-hunting poem, 'The Hounds of Heaven', little would he have contemplated the state of hunting today. It exists in an environment of legal and moral uncertainty, yet is resolutely pursued, in belief or actuality, by more than 400,000 people in Britain today.
This morning, before news which I predicted here two days ago that the Lib Dems would shamelessly throw in their lot with discredited Labour came to pass, I was telephoned by Horse & Hound for whom I have been a hunting correspondent for the past twenty years. "What," I was asked, "Is the likelihood of hunting reform in the forthcoming political climate?"
With a balanced head and heavy heart, based on about twenty talks I have done this winter to hunts around the country, I am sorry to say that i replied: "It is dead in the water." This realisation has also been dawning as a bitter blow to members of Vote OK and individual hunts who have worked tirelessly to help Conservative candidates get elected. In particular the successful Tory candidates in Kingswood (Bristol) and Teignbridge (Devon) should never forget the debt they owe to selfless hunt followers.
But he stark facts are that, without a working Conservative majority in the House Of Commons, reform of hunting will not get space for debate. Even then, on a free vote, their is no guarantee it would succeed.
Until now, i have studiously avoided getting involved in placing hunting higher up the political agenda. At a private dinner before Christmas, when I had the opportunity to talk to David Cameron about this at length, my view to him was clear. It was, in summary, "You do what you do best to get elected, we, as foxhunters will do everything to help you but we retain the right to vigorous self-determination."
At my hunt talks I have spoken afterwards to many significant, disenfranchised, passionate people. None, in my view, are prepared to stop hunting in whatever form it may take in their area, and they are right not to do so. Belief, community, and, most importantly, the fair management of the fox population and the breeding of hounds is what they, and I, are about.
I do not expect politicians to understand this. Nor did i ever expect them to ride to the rescue. That is why it is all the more important for everyone who cares about hunting to redouble their support for their local hunts, to be even more vigilant, and not to be downhearted.
Thompson began his poem, likening God to quarry:
"I fled Him down the nights and down the days,
I fled Him down the arches of the years,
I fled Him down the labrynthine ways.."
Just for a moment transpose God for the aetheistic Clegg or the Pink* (ask me about this one in private) Pulpiteer Gordon. And hound them from any known form of public office.
READ HORSE & HOUND THIS WEEK FOR WHAT THEY HAVE GOT TO SAY