The Pro-Hunting Protest

23rd Sep 2002

The sight of 400,000 normally passive people marching on London was rather stirring. Compared with most protestors, they were well-behaved, respectful to the police and dropped little litter. They were clearly not a threat to civil society. They were also much larger in number. Nothing on this scale has been seen for many years. So what made that many people journey so far to complain in public about politics?

From the banners, hunting was the main issue. The signs were demanding the right to continue all forms of it. That the government’s proposed ban on fox-hunting was the thin end of the wedge, they understood. Yet it was still surprising that so many peoples’ lives would potentially be affected.

And if so many votes were at stake, why was there no serious political representation of their position already in Parliament? After all, the issue is not a new one. The marchers clearly felt that if they sat at home, nothing would be done, that the normal political process would fail them.

A small anti-protest group in Parliament Square gave a clue to the answer: they held up pictures of dismembered animals and demanded an end to hunting and vivisection. Their principle was ‘animal rights’. No mainstream party exists that is either fully for or against animal rights. They act inconsistently on the issue: prosecuting Mary Chipperfield, yet slaughtering herds of healthy cattle; regulating vivisection but not banning it; letting veal calves be transported but only under certain conditions.

All major partities, like most of the voters they represent, are afraid of a principled stand. If they came down entirely on the animal rights side then they know they would have to ban all human uses of animals including meat eating. If they came down entirely on the human rights side, they would have to allow humans to do whatever they wanted with animals.

The first alternative would not be accepted by the majority of people. Not only do they find pleasure and nourishment in eating meat, but they understand the great medical value of animals, for example the use of pigs’ heart valves and the testing of new drugs. They also of course enjoy their companionship as pets.

The second alternative appears more attractive, and would seem to answer the protestors’ grievances. But it too is impossible. Not because it would lead to bear-baiting and cock-fighting – these days few people would find either amusing – but because if applied as a principle it would challenge the very basis of modern politics: majority rule.

If there are only human rights, and the right to hunt animals is derived from the inalienable right of every man to do what he wills with his own time and property, then no man and so no group of men have the right to interfere with the activities of another. Yet such interference by the group, as represented through Parliament, is the essence of today’s political system. Its main activity is to tax and regulate the individual. Its premise is that people have no rights, but are instead granted permissions. Consider how few types of property and activity a man is entirely free to make up his mind upon.

If politics were based on rights, we would have to abandon state welfare, state healthcare, state education, state environmental policy, state regulation of everything from mink-farming to banking, and most problematically for the protestors, state farming subsidies and protectionist measures.

No mainstream party is prepared to do even a tenth of that, and given the implications for the future of farming, and the lack of placards complaing about the CAP, few protestors are either.

This is the real explanation for the huge size of the protest and the correspondingly huge lack of political support for it. Both are frustrated by reality: the protestors cannot have their freedom and eat it too; and the politicians cannot grant that freedom and continue exercising power. Neither wants to face up to their dilemma.

Therefore until the political philosophy of this country fundamentally changes, such large scale contradictions and protests will continue to be indulged in.


Richard G. Brooke