In this week’s issue of The Spectator, Melissa Kite joins David Cameron’s local hunt, the Heythrop, to find out what its members think of its recent drubbing in the courts from the RSPCA, and the Conservative Party’s troubled relationship with fox hunting.
She meets former huntsman Julian Barnfield, who was fined £1,000 in the case, and chats to him about the recent admission from the Tories that a free vote on the hunting ban isn’t on the cards for the new year after all:
To understand fully the sense of grievance, you need to cast your mind back to the way the Conservatives campaigned at the last election. Then, the party was happy to cosy up to people like Mr Barnfield. This is because he was pounding the streets putting leaflets through doors in marginal seats. Indeed, activists who volunteered for the optimistically entitled ‘Vote OK’ group were specifically led to believe that if they helped put the Tories back in power, the hunting ban would be overturned and their way of life would go back to normal.
With the dawn of the coalition, and the political conflicts that brought, Mr Barnfield did not expect an immediate return for his devotion. But he certainly did not expect to be hung out to dry, either. Friends say he has been abandoned both by Cameron, to whom he appealed as his local MP, and by elements of the Chipping Norton set, who closed ranks and cast him adrift when he got into trouble.
A former soldier who served in the Falklands, Mr Barnfield sounds like a broken man: ‘I feel devastated. I’ve gone through my life and never been in trouble. I’ve served my country as a soldier. And yet the RSPCA has been allowed to persecute me. I’ve done this job for 30 years and I don’t know what I will do next in life.’
A softly spoken man with a lilting West Country accent, he retired from the hunt earlier this year, after seven years of working for them. ‘I met with David Cameron in 2009 in his constituency surgery. He was very sympathetic. He said he believed the Hunting Act was wrong. I was full of hope that if he did get in he would do what he said and try to overturn it. Even Blair says he regrets the hunting ban now. It’s a farce.’