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Pro-hunting stance does not put off Tory voters, MPs say

Conservative MPs have hit back at claims that the party’s traditional pro-foxhunting stance puts off voters, describing the suggestions as “demonstrably untrue”.

Simon Hart, the Tory MP who was previously chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said “Labour would have won the last three elections” if the Conservatives’ support for hunting harmed its showing at general elections.

Glyn Davies, another vocal proponent, pointed out that, in his Montgomeryshire constituency, the party’s share of the vote had increased in each of the last three polls.

The interventions come after reports that Theresa May was dropping a manifesto pledge to give MPs a vote on overturning the 2004 ban, amid claims of a widespread backlash against the commitment in this year’s general election.

Last week 250 registered hunts took place across the UK on Boxing Day, with clashes between protesters and supporters in some areas.

According to a Survation poll taken during the election campaign, 67 per cent of voters believed foxhunting should remain illegal.

By contrast to the Conservatives’ stance, Labour pledged to maintain the ban.

Riders and hounds take part in the Duke of Beaufort’s Boxing Day Hunt at Didmarton in Gloucestershire

Credit:
PA

However, Tory MPs said it was untrue to claim that the party’s promise of a vote on “the future of the Hunting Act” had put off voters.

Mr Hart, the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, who was chief executive of the Countryside Alliance from 2003 to 2010, said: “Suggestions that our position impacts on votes is demonstrably untrue. If it wasn’t then Labour would have won the last three elections, and supporters and opponents of repealing the ban would have posted very different results. In the end they were nigh on identical.”

Mr Davies also said that a lot of commentators wrongly “attribute change in voters’ habits to one policy”.

“I’ve always been fairly open that, although not a huntsman myself, I think it is a sensible policy,” he said.

Mr Davies pointed out that he gained an almost 3,000 vote increase – around 7 per cent – at the last election, building on a previous rise in 2015.

Mr Hart, one of the party’s most prominent supporters of foxhunting, also increased his share of the vote in June.

The apparent decision to drop plans to hold a vote in this parliament – first indicated when the vote was absent from the Queen’s Speech – has infuriated some proponents of overturning Tony Blair’s ban.

But the Countryside Alliance, the most prominent group lobbying for the move, and Tory supporters, have conceded that it would be tactically unwise to attempt to hold a Commons vote at a time when there are an insufficient number of sympathetic MPs to stand a chance of it passing.

Tim Bonner, the Countryside Alliance’s current chief executive, said: “Even without the pressing rural priorities of Brexit and the development of the first British agricultural policy for over 40 years, it has always been clear that resolving the hunting issue would require a significant parliamentary majority. No minority government could sensibly restart the debate.

“That does not mean that the hunting community and the Countryside Alliance will not continue to point out the many failings of the Act and campaign for hunting to be made legal again by a future parliament.”

Mr Davies added: “I understand why some would  feel let down if commitment to a ‘free vote’ were to be dropped. However I’m pragmatic and cannot see any point in becoming over excited at a time when there seems little chance of success.”

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/30/pro-hunting-stance-does-not-put-tory-voters-mps-say/

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