Thousands of hunt supporters turn out on Boxing Day. Supporters of the ban gear for fight.
Ignoring icy conditions left behind by harsh winter weather across England, about three hundred hunts and thousands of their supporters carried on with traditional Boxing Day meets.
Five thousand supporters are said to have turned out for the Heythrop meet alone, six thousand for the Avon Vale, while four hundred gathered in support of the Exmoor Foxhounds where Tony Wright had been the first huntsman convicted under the Act. (Wright was acquitted after a legal battle lasting three years.) The large turnouts were intended to be seen as evidence of the support for an overturn of the hunting ban to which many Tory Members of Parliament are pledged.
Meanwhile, animal rights activists and their champions in government gird for the battle. Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has kicked off a campaign to support the ban, his action supported by Prime Minister Gordon Brown looking to solidify the Labour vote in the coming elections.
A recent poll taken on Boxing Day, however, shows that fifty-seven percent believe the ban is not working, and forty-nine percent believe that the Act should be either repealed or given a free vote in Parliament.
Since 2005 when the Hunting Act was enacted, there have been only three successful prosecutions for illegal hunting, while thousand of hours of police time and millions of pounds of taxpayer money have been spent. During this period, the sport has actually grown in popularity.
Hunt supporters characterize the Act as failed and unworkable. Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart called the Act “a spiteful piece of state bullying and class warfare, which never had anything to do with animal welfare.”
Anticipating an explosive confrontation between hunt supporters and animal rights activists, Tories are preparing strong hunting regulations to which hunts will have to conform after the ban is overturned to reassure citizens who have legitimate concerns about animal cruelty.