David Cameron has, according to this morning’s Times, U-turned on his Coalition Agreement promise to hold a free vote in the House of Commons on repealing the Hunting Act. This wasn’t a great surprise – what had annoyed rural Tories more was the failure of the two Coalition parties to agree on a very limited relaxation of the act to allow upland farmers to use up to 40 dogs to flush foxes out of their dens for shooting to prevent them savaging lambs. But why has the Prime Minister, usually rather finicky about not breaking promises, U-turned on the promise of a free vote?
The reason is that the pro-hunting lobby know they will lose the free vote if it is held before 2015, and fear that this would set back their cause by showing that parliament has a view on keeping the Hunting Act. They would rather strike when the time is right, rather than push the Prime Minister into holding the vote soon. As I reported in the Telegraph in March, Number 10 understands this, with one source telling me:
‘The hunting lobby don’t want a Commons free vote at the moment: it would set back the cause, as they’d lose it.’
Even MPs who get rather cheesed off rather regularly with Cameron appreciate this and struggle to criticise him for it. But this doesn’t mean they’re relaxing. The fight now is to get a pledge on hunting into the party’s 2015 manifesto.