Rory Knight Bruce's column in this month's Field magazine
Single issue for foxhunters
As we stand on what is hopefully a new dawn for politics, and following that a measured understanding about the future of hunting, many of my generation are feeling that this is their last chance to ‘do something.’ I was reminded of this when recently I was invited to dinner in the House of Commons by a lifelong friend and MP.The thing about the Commons, away from the shrill clarions of David Dimbleby’s ‘Question Time’ and its back-bending ‘impartiality’ (the monstrousness of which afterwards always gives me a sleepless night) is that it is really rather a fair and reasonable place. Opponents treat each other, much as I treat antis on the hunting field, with the feeling that at least they believe in something.
But the feelings I got when I left that jolly dinner were pangs of regret that my own political career never really took off and I took up the more noble but impecunious defence of hunting instead. For, just as those of us in our fifties are beginning to see our careers-or certainly our incomes- wane, I should have welcomed a steady job, heat and light, a subsidised cafeteria and some fruity gossip in the Palace of Westminster’s labyrinthine bars.
I showed an early interest in politics at school when I voted to enter Europe on the understanding that we would get cheap and good French wine. That has been proven to be demonstrably not the case this year where hoards of vintners have been found out flogging us doctored ‘Plonk.’ At university in Scotland that fledgling promise blossomed into political activism. I was involved in the happy day of kicking out the National Union of Students, staged a sit in for fair rents and eventually got elected to a pretty important sabbatical post, beating off a very amiable communist and a pretty girl whom, although from Pakistan, was a rabid Scottish Nationalist.
To this day, I am entitled to wear the same ‘Presidential’ tie of Edinburgh University (I was actually only the vice president) as Gordon Brown. This I do when shooting or on hound exercise to remind me of the different paths our lives have taken.
It is here worth recording that, when I was a fearless Fleet Street reporter, I was once charged with ringing up the Brown parents to ask about their ‘wee bairn’s’ childhood in the family vicarage. Swifter than a brooding thunderbolt, the ‘son of the manse’, by then an MP with prospects, was on the phone himself. “Why are you trying to bully my parents?” he asked. I always thought that was a strange response to my mild and, until then, affectionate enquiries.
But I always enjoyed reporting on the main Party Conferences, whatever their hue. I was there when Margaret ‘wasn’t for turning’ and once in Brighton covering Labour, found myself doing a drunken dawn conga with the cleaning ladies and their Hoovers in the Grand Hotel with the late, great Keith Waterhouse. My own parliamentary career rather ended before it began. Although I was selected for a seat, and my wife borrowed some pretty fetching clothes for my acceptance speech, my heart wasn’t really in it. I think I had just been to independent for too long to sit in endless committees listening to people’s opinions that weren’t my own. When the local council took me to visit a beautiful wildlife estuary and asked me if it should be either a deep water port or a housing development, I was so despondent about this desecration that I simply asked where was the brown envelope?
There was, however, a final act of political influence that I was able to bring to bear, and all those who are manfully pushing leaflets through doors in the hope of a reform of the Hunting Bill should take comfort in this. For the one certainty for any measured reform will be the election of Conservative Government with a working majority. One of my not infrequent dinner companions in London was the sometime MP and diarist Alan Clark. “Politics is not a single issue subject,” Clark was fond of saying to me when I raised to him my glass and love of hunting and he responded with equal distaste. When he was short listed for the Kensington & Chelsea seat, with a thousand members of the Countryside Alliance as voting members, I asked him if he still felt the same, as they wanted to know. “On this occasion, you can them it is a single issue subject,” he answered gracefully, and was duly selected.
The slogan that puzzled me most during my student political campaigns was one day coming across a bit of graffito, daubed large on a wall. It was a lonely truth, as truths often are, and it read: “Whichever way you vote, the government gets in.” So, for the moment, we should forget about the Hunting Bill and think about the Government we want. Then we should leaftet like mad for the candidate or MP who will form that government.I shall myself be active with my lifelong friend in East Devon. Who knows, one day I might get another dinner off him in the House of Commons as a result.