‘On a hill above the valley there was a wood.
In the wood there was a huge tree.
Under the tree there was a hole.
In the hole lived Mr Fox and Mrs Fox and their four Small Foxes’.
So begins the second chapter of a book I read when I was 9, Roald Dahl’s, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, humorously painted by illustrator Quentin Blake, in his smart red jacket, the same one worn by his real-life predator.
And now that the new Conservative majority government is eager to bring back the blood-sport, the pursuit of Mr. Fox is renewed. But opposition to fox-hunting could not be clearer. We have no issue, in principle, with controlling fox population, although evidence that hunts have for years bred foxes for sport would undermine this need. If there is a case for culling foxes then it should be done quickly and humanely, as is currently legislated for. What we are opposed to is the alternative. This is a long-lasting pursuit in which the defenceless animal is exhausted, and panic-stricken, its blood pumping, aware of imminent violence. The fox is torn to bits, limb from limb, left to die in some field in excruciating pain for no real purpose, except that some find a perverted pleasure in inflicting such cruelty. This really is what Oscar Wilde summarised, as a case of ‘the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable’.
Defenders of fox-hunting have for long evoked the “culture” of “country-ways”, something of historical importance that deserves preservation simply on the grounds that it has been carried out in the past. So where do they stand on a return to dog fighting or cockerel fighting. Like public hanging, these are cultures and customs that we have handed solely to the hands of the historians.
Those about to vote on the issue of fox-hunting in parliament surely would not dream of reintroducing these other forms of barbarism, and this is exactly the point. These activities are equally “cultural”, but the culture of those others is almost exclusively a working-class culture. In many ways it is not the activity itself that concentrates proponents’ minds. It is more what fox-hunting represents. This has always been the defining element of conservative support for fox-hunting. For them it is all about the pomp. It is the ceremonial shrouding in the red jacket with the golden lapels, the trumpet call, the sleek white trousers mounted on a stallion, looking down on the fox as you would look down on everybody else. All of these niceties aid in the pursuit to kill another creature that, to some, clearly gives them a heightened sense of their own superiority.
The reason why it has always had such a priority for the Conservative Party is because at its heart fox-hunting is about social order. It is about class, hierarchy and deference. The return of fox-hunting can be an emblem for all those other anachronistic parts of our unreformed political system. But it is the act, completely equal to other blood-sports, of torturing an animal before its death which makes fox-hunting equally wrong. The price of your attire has no bearing on the morality of the act you chose to participate in.
Buried deep in the burrow of the mind of any childhood reader, is that eternal image of Fantastic Mr Fox, beating the odds to find a place in the world for himself and his family. Mr Fox inhabits a world made up of powerful people, determined to see his demise. In fact, Mr Fox is everything the Conservative Party hates. He defies the wealth of those around him and the power they exercise as a result. The story ends with Mr Fox raising his glass, eating a meal with his family and friends at the expense of his wealth-ridden opponents, who sit in the rain, guns aloft, waiting for him.
As the vote approaches, let me, like Mr. Badger, raise a glass of cider to toast a friend. “To Mr Fox! Long may he live!”.