Edward Webster: The Canary in the Coal Mine

The swivel-eyed loons took back control in 2016. Meanwhile, Theresa May said in her New Year's Eve address that she "wanted to bring unity back to the country". Millions of pounds will now be spent on management consultants, think tanks and focus groups to try and figure out exactly how this blindsided the establishment. But a new poll suggests that one group knew all along: the hunting community.

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A survey by 'The Daily Election' pollsters now suggests that the UK population is split pretty evenly when asked if the Hunting Act should be repealed. 52% said ‘no’ in their latest poll, conducted on Boxing Day. However, when the results were overlaid with data from a referendum-day Brexit survey of the same respondents, they found that there is a 60% correlation between voting for Brexit and voting to repeal the Hunting Act. And, crucially, when voters located in London are taken out of the mix, this shoots up to an 80% correlation. So if you want to understand Brexit voters, the hunting community is a good place to start. 

A disclaimer before I go on: like thousands of others I’ve been riding to hounds and hunting from a young age. Before a million people marched against Tony Blair’s Iraq war, over 400,000 pro-hunting campaigners marched on Whitehall to protest against plans to outlaw their way of life, and I was one of them. The rallies saw country dwellers from all walks of life, many of them lifetime Labour voters, march with pitchforks not-quite-in-hand and, like the anti-war marchers after them, and so many before, they were entirely ignored by the Government.

Hunting is a community effort, the man riding in the ‘pink’ coat is more likely to be a maths teacher than a landed gent, and there’s an even-chance he won’t be a ‘he’ at all. From the blacksmith to the kennelman, the vet to the whippers-in, hunting is a group of all-sorts pulling together as one and, in recent years, facing adversity as one. When Tony Blair’s Labour Party banned the sport with a sketchy and loophole-ridden Act of Parliament in 2004 the strength of our community was tested and proved, with the result that hunting not only continues, it thrives. But speak to the rural community and the lasting legacy is one of distrust of politicians and a feeling of being ignored by the mainstream mostly London urban elite.

One Labour MP famously described banning hunting as ‘payback for the miners’. The real irony is that the hunting community and the miners have far more in common with each other than with most of their representatives in Parliament. The mining community was more than decimated by a distant government which refused to engage with or listen to them. Likewise much of the North has been systematically ignored by successive governments, manufacturing has plummeted, entire towns and cities in Lancashire, Yorkshire and beyond have been allowed to wither and die by the main political parties.

The Brexit map of England shows that, with the exception of London, most of the country voted to leave the European Union. Communities outside the capital have marched, petitioned and fought to be heard by policy makers in London. The miners striked and picketed, manufacturing screamed and died, the Welsh and Scottish ditched mainstream parties altogether and still Government didn’t listen. These, along with hunting with hounds in the counties have a grievance against an aloof elite which imposed alien values on a minority that were pursuing long standing, locally driven practices that tied their community together, but had little recourse against a concocted Parliamentary majority.

407,791 hunt supporters marched down Whitehall in September 2002. In November 2004 the Hunting Act was forced through Parliament and in June 2016, according to the Boxing Day poll, the hunting community hit back by voting for Brexit. As did all those other communities from steelworkers, crofters, miners, NHS workers, ethnic minorities, fishermen and the armed services. In fact everyone except those in London finally found their voices.

If the political elite want to understand Brexit, if they want to understand the people they represent, they could ditch the management consultants, think tanks and focus groups, and instead visit their local hunt kennels or even their local farrier's forge.


Edward Webster is the co-founder of 'Bright Young Things', a tutoring firm which has won a number of awards, including the Times 100 Best companies to work for.