Saturday, September 18, 2004

Faulkner and the Great Fox Hunt

William Faulkner once said (note - I may be misquoting) "The past is never forgotten - it is not even past". Who could disagree with that after this week? I could vaguely recall, back at the start of the week, caring about fox hunting (or in fact *not* fox hunting) in about 1998. But, what with war and security theatre and real problems, I'd rather lost interest. Could anyone really justify putting through a hunt ban when there is officially no parliamentary time for new corporate manslaughter legislation, to say nothing of the Euro, serious action on renewable power, regionality etc? I was in the mood to write it off as one of those things (like the €) that should have been dealt with in 1997, when the momentum was with us and Blair hadn't yet stripped open his mask to show the hideous rubbery chops and green fangs now familiar to millions. But, yes, I feel induced to care again.

I've said before that every nation has at least one issue that it considers capital, that divides it utterly, and that no-one else in the world can understand, still less care about. Foxes are exhibit A. It is astonishing how much old blood has boiled up over this, even in the last week. Some of the divides:

Every great political question begins and ends in the tenure of land - Gladstone You may disagree - I usually do - but the conflict between what survives of the old landed interest and the (essentially bourgeois) political system of modern Britain was well to the front. Add to this, the tradition of Labour/Left campaigning over access to the land. Walking used to be an ideology in the UK, with ferocious campaigns by people from the industrial cities of the North for access to the moors owned by the rich. In all the fuss you might have forgotten that the Right to Roam legislation comes into force this week - you can bet the protestors didn't. Yet another old classic is evoked by the odd social milieu of the Commons raiders - 5 out of 8 or thereabouts can claim to know Prince Charles. Ye gods, a King's Party? Is this 1776? And, right down in the deep play, there is one of the eternal questions of political philosophy - majority decision vs minority rights. Not to mention the Commons and the Lords. Is this 1911? And police vs protestors. It's quite astonishing how this has reactivated so many of the founding conflicts of British political history.

Some of the cliches and habits that came up have been interesting, too. The Tories' Alan Duncan - a former oil trader, most rural of all occupations, despite his description as a "pro-hunting shires Tory" - thought the police had been "lippy, surly, provocative and menacing". Don't be sulky to Memsahib now. And what was Sir Max Hastings thinking about this:
"Soon, the only survivals of a batty yet wonderfully colourful heritage will be pubs named the Fox And Hounds. Perhaps Mr Tony Banks and his friends will feel more comfortable when these, too, are suppressed, replaced by some ideal New Labour niterie christened The Halal Butcher."
Why the Halal butcher specifically, may I ask? Why not the Spin Doctor or the Foreign Fighter? Or the Unattributable Briefing? The Doctor Kelly? Enough already. By the way, when I did in fact live in The Countryside, I knew where my nearest halal butcher was. I can't say that here in The Suburbs. Funny, eh, rather like the fact I've still never met a hunt in the flesh. Probably never will now, unless "they" decide to stage one as a protest on the M25.

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