Coffee House

Hunting with the Heythrop

28 December 2012

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.’

You can read Melissa’s full account of her day out with the Heythrop here. To subscribe to The Spectator, click here.

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Show comments
  • ToryOAP

    Hunting, like gay marriage, is not a pursuit that appeals to me but I see no reason to ban either and do not understand why the Conservative party ties itself in knots on the issues. Free votes in parliament can deal with both the issues in short time and we can get on with the real intent of any right-wing administration, f@cking the libtards and the labtards.

  • TomTom

    It is farcical. I used to get frustrated with the Belvoir Hunt blocking roads but I see it as integral to the countryside that they ride. I find it outrageous that a fringe lobby can pay £1 million to Blair’s Party to get a law enacted to remove traditional freedom and the Tories are so wet and weak they allow Blair to get away with Bought Legislation. I oppose handgun bans because I think shooting clubs are legitimate and I oppose hunting bans because it brings vibrant colour and activity to countryside and upholds traditions. Cameron is simply a twerp and no use to man or beast. Blair has destroyed the Conservative Party forever

  • In2minds

    JP says – “I’m quite sure there are many things far worse which we
    do to animals and tolerate quite happily…..”

    Our farmers suffer as the UK has relatively high farm animal welfare
    standards. We cannot prevent produce from factory farmed animals
    entering our food chain or enforce basic welfare standards for live
    animal exports. We cannot even label animal products clearly because
    these are EU competences. For example 326 million farmed rabbits are
    mainly kept in barren cages the size of an A4 sheet of paper in the
    EU. Our taxes subsidise this.

    Perhaps efforts could be diverted to lobby for payments for high animal welfare standards eligible for green box treatment in the World Trade Organisation and
    clear animal welfare labelling when we chair the G8?

    At least foxes have a life before they are hunted. Oh and David Cameron loves the EU so fat chance of anything happening when it comes to repatriating powers back to the UK!

  • the viceroy’s gin

    The fox in that caricature is losing ground, it appears. And the pursuing dogs don’t appear forgiving.

  • Thick as two Plancks

    Some users of these comments would welcome a new sport of Hunt the Trolls. Except that one man’s Troll is another’s embodiment of sweet reason.

    Disagreements are what politics is about, and this is a political magazine.

  • Ron Todd

    If we had gangs of working class boys on motorbikes using packs of staffies to hunt urban foxes a dozen different ways would be found to convict them, there would be none of the loopholes that have let the rural hunts keep operating years afte their ‘sport’ was banned. If foxes need to be killed and am not disputing such circumstances might arise is a pack of dogs accompanied by a bunch of red coated toffs (yes yes I know they are all really just working class people who have saved up really hard) the most efficient or least cruel way of doing it. No I don’t believe the dogs kill the fox cleanly with a single bite nature does not work like that, and I don’t believe that the fox enjoyes the chase either.

  • David Lindsay

    The hunting ban has never commanded popular support. Most people could not care less. And among those who could (massively concentrated, on both sides, in rural communities), opinion is still overwhelmingly opposed to the ban, i.e., in favour of the safety of the sheep and poultry whom most anti-hunt types still want to eat, and in favour of killing far fewer foxes, by far more humane methods, than the ban compels.

    The hunting ban, and this can never be said too often, was the means by which Tony Blair
    and Hilary Armstrong (who went on to oppose it) cajoled disgraceful Labour MPs into voting in favour of the Iraq War. Many things need to be done in order to break definitively with that wicked period. One of those things is the repeal of what is in any case a ludicrous piece of unenforced, because unenforceable, legislation.

    Economic growth is a distant memory. Wealth inequality is greater than at any other time since records began. Social mobility had not only ceased, but remains dramatically in reverse, as it has been continuously since 1979. The war in Afghanistan drones on.

    But never mind. At least the red-coated toffs have been knocked off their horses, so high a priority for Attlee, Bevin, Morrison, Bevan and Gaitskell. Except, of course, that it was not, and that they have not been, nor should they be.

    Meanwhile, consider quite how right-wing anti-hunting Conservatives, who were enough to deliver a majority for a ban in the Major years until parliamentary procedures were used to stop them, have always tended to be on every other issue: Alan Clark, Ann Widdecombe, Sir Teddy Taylor, Sir Roger Gale, the late Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, and so on.

  • JP

    I could probably get on board with this hunting thing (speaking as an urbanite!) because a) I’m quite sure there are many things far worse which we do to animals and tolerate quite happily, and b) the ban always smelt more of class warfare rather than any concern for foxes. But this Barnfield guy can cry me a river.

  • wrinkledweasel

    Well, it is always going to polarize opinion isn’t it? On the one hand you have the toffs who think that they should hunt vermin and d#mn the duced stinky antis and on the other there are the hordes of seeming animal lovers who appear to be consumed with equal amounts of class hatred.

    But wait a minute! The above is a caricature of the facts. Hunting is not the preserve of “toffs”. Most of the hunters and riders I have met sacrifice their pants to keep a horse. Most of the antis I have met are un-employed, smelly and talk darkly about explosive devices and violence. Many are linked to extremists who plot actual bodily harm to hunters.

    While I would not go fox hunting, I believe that those who do kind of do the countryside a service. Hunting is an age-old tradition, and one far less brutal than that fairly new tradition, in this country, of preparing Halal meat.

    Think about it. My chickens thank the local hunt for reducing the threat of their being massacred, wounded, and left to die a slow, agonising death.

    Cat lovers, remember that domestic cats kill about 60 million wild birds each year.

    Live and let die.

    • dalai guevara

      Your analytical rant falls short of including the word ‘entertainment’. Until you include it, fox hunting remains on one level with cock and dog fighting, or badger baiting, in brief the ritualisation of the death of an animal for…entertainment (sic).

      Cat loving or halal slaughter does not come into it. That would be misrepresenting the facts.

      • wrinkledweasel

        Yes, I suppose it is entertainment, which is why I would not personally do it, since I don’t kill animals for entertainment. Having said that, there are a lot more common and wicked things around. I really feel this is borne out of class envy and hatred and not a rational understanding of the facts.

        Halal slaughter does come into it because it is far more widespread and it is cruel. The only reason the main parties won’t touch the issue is because it is about Muslims. If Christians were slaughtering live animals and claiming it was ok because they “said a prayer” over it when they slit its throat, I think you can guess the kind of public opposition that would ensue.

        As I said, this is beset by the wrong kind of arguments. Either, ban animal cruelty across the board: i.e. ban the keeping of cats and the use of Halal slaughter, etc, or leave people alone. You cannot pick and choose because of social and cultural differences.

        • dalai guevara

          Well, there we are – and here is someone whose family has a considerable history in hunting (never the fox, mind you).

          Of course Halal slaughter is more widespread, it’s ultimately a food supply issue coupled with religious beliefs of how to do that properly. I really think this is a different discussion though, and believe that the Spanish bull fighting issue is much closer to our fox hunting conundrum. Those are the two we ought to compare in outcome when discussing further.

          • Colonel Mustard

            I tend to agree but both have cultural elements. The slaughter religious, the hunting ethnic/cultural. But the kingdom of animals is savage and ruthless anyway and the human interaction piecemeal and inconsistent. Does an undomesticated animal understand the concept of kindness – or cruelty? The argument seems to be that as humans we should know better, which would be fine if that was consistently expected and achieved.

            No, it is basically just another political cudgel, wielded to suit a broader agenda – or to tug on feel good heart strings where the fox is George Clooney, cute and clever, rather than the vicious killer of chickens or sheep. Do those so concerned with the plight of the fleeing fox spare a thought for the plight of the terrified and terrorised sheep? No, that’s just nature. But a man or woman on a horse and a pack of hounds is somehow more reprehensible than a mortar barrage or a magazine of AK-47 let loose on a line of women and children.


            • dalai guevara

              Someone stated in another place that if skinheads with staffies from Liverpool would endulge in this sort of activity, society would perhaps take a different stance.

              There are obviously other ways of dealing with the ‘balance of nature’ in the English countyside, ritualising the killing of an animal for entertainment is what is criticised here.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Yes, but it was rather a silly point since those types do participate in dog-fighting, hare coursing and badger baiting (and God knows what else) which continue despite the law and with far less publicity than fox hunting.

                No, this is mainly part of the politically-motivated cultural war against English traditions despite the fine pretensions. There is rather more to the “entertainment” than the killing of the animal, but don’t let an understanding of what is actually involved and why get in the way of your sanctimony.

                PS Just to avoid doubt I am neither a participant nor a fan of any blood sports but I do admire English fox-hunting for traditional and cultural reasons, not least because of the type of people who get so wound up about it.

                • dalai guevara

                  Yes, a politically motivated war against traditions, which on reflection resemble those of the Spanish bull fight. And it is the the indigenous legislative which called the shots in stopping it, not the EU, not the ECHR, but homegrown thoughtful people who might have just clarified that this utterly irrelevant and outdated cultural activity is exactly that, utterly outdated.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You are presuming that what you (and others) approve or disapprove of is “correct”. Fox hunting cannot be dismissed as an “utterly irrelevant and outdated cultural activity” because of the numbers of English people who still support it and participate in it, not least from a traditional and cultural viewpoint – as I do. To them it is both relevant and contemporary as well as cultural.

                  And denying that simple fact is yet another contradiction in the supposed adherence of the left to “diversity”. Do the left make as much fuss about the cruelty of FGM, forced marriages or child brides – all of which could be perceived as “utterly irrelevant and outdated cultural activity”? We all know the truth about what “diversity”, “equality” and “fairness” really mean to the left by their many contradictions and inconsistencies.

                  PS the down arrow is not mine. I don’t use them.

                • dalai guevara

                  ‘do the left make much fuss’ – I would.

                  On the issue of ‘forced’ marriages, we must not forget that our ‘romantic’ concept of marriage is exactly that, based on Romanticism of the 1820s. Marriage before that (at least in communities with wealth) was never about the romantic notion of love, but a contract to maintain the estate.

                  Now, I understand we have strong cultural ties to the continent, Enlightenment, the separation of powers, Romanticism, the Angles, Saxons and Normans coming to live here and all of that. But I also note that cultures who do not share that history might have a different outlook. That is the sense of ‘diversity’ I would side with, not leading to the dismisal of one cultural aspect for the sake of another (often and easily done), but an evaluation of moral standards before passing judgement in changing times.

                  Would we otherwise have voting rights for women, or the acceptance of civil partnerships? No, as we would not have acknowledged that society is not a static thing.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You might but they don’t generally. And yes, I understand how left wing revisionism serves the purpose of discrediting the cultural traditions of anything they take exception to but that certain imported cultures (and votes) are curiously ring-fenced. I have watched that selective technique creep like a spreading stain into every aspect of our English national identity. Of course there is no real evaluation of “moral standards” – just the imposition of politically correct bigotry under a tawdry set of angel wings and halo.

                • dalai guevara

                  I strongly object to this being a party political issue. Some individuals wish to turn it into one, but that simply does not wash. Surely, there are lefties who favour the butchering and right wingers who oppose it. How would that fit your view of the world?

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Unfortunately whether you object or not the left have turned almost everything into a party political issue in that they seek to politicise everything. It was Blair who said that the Labour party was “nothing less than the political wing of the British people as a whole”. It is Miliband who is talking about ‘One Nation’ as though that one nation and Labour are a united entity.

                  But even so, my comment was more about their revisionism generally of which fox hunting is just one small part.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Well, it may not be proper, but you can pick and choose based upon social and cultural differences, real or imagined, as we see:

          This is where “democracy” breaks down. Some don’t like something, and they outnumber those who do, and bottabing-bottaboom… the something is disappeared.

    • Paul Hughes

      Your account is also a caricature of the facts in that one does not have to be a foaming at the mouth class warrior to despise blood sports. This tory turned UKIP voter is happy to see law-breakers punished for their transgressions. Did he really think that he had a get out of jail free card?

      • Colonel Mustard

        “Tory turned UKIP voter”. Yeah, right.

  • In2minds

    ‘Up with the gay vote down with the hunt’………….best leave it there I think!

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