Forenote: now that the law banning hunting with dogs has finally been passed, the eventual demise of the sport is virtually assured and any further discussion is largely academic. That is indeed the reason that I am noding something on the subject; it is a rarity with me in being a topic on which I prefer not to enter into heated debates. So, if my opinions rile and enrage you, please do me the favour of curbing any desires you might have to send me irate messages, and instead use the downvote button, as God intended.

I neither hunt, nor ride, nor ever have. I am a city dweller from birth, and foreign to boot, and have no first hand experience of the issues involved in hunting, fishing or any other country sport. Unlike others who have expressed strong opinions on this subject, however, both above and elsewhere (two of whom I just happen to know are granted expert insight into the argument by being residents of the well-known rural parish of Central London), all my opinions are based on conversations and personal acquaintance with real live country people (almost exclusively farmers and their descendants).

A Small Aside: Never having met an actual toff, I couldn't tell you whether or not they consider thundering across the countriside and surveying it from a lofty vantage point quaintly measured in hands part of their ancestral priviledges. Judging from my personal experience alone, I find the whole "class war" argument bewildering in the extreme. Equestrian sports and country living go together by necessity, as it is that much harder to have access to a horse and the many facilities it requires while living in a big city. Aside from owners of thatched second homes and retired merchant bankers, the English countriside is quite full of perfectly ordinary people, many of whom ride, and some of whom hunt. Hunting can be a costly hobby, but not more so than, say, skiing, surfing or diving. Many oligarchs and aristocrats I am certain engage in these other sports, but still they manage not to acquire any upper class stigma.

As a newcomer to this country the controversy over fox hunting burst in and found me in a virginal state of ignorance and some amusement that such a minor issue can excite so much passion. In tragically news glutted Israel a like topic would be lucky to get a spot on the human interest section of the lunchtime news edition. Still, being something of a current events addict, I listened and learned and tried to come to a conclusion about the whole sorry mess. And sorry it is, because both sides have contributed to it being so mired in emotion, so muddles as to facts, that it is almost impossible to form an objective opinion about it. Indeed forming an objective opinion is not what any of this is about.

Let's get a few things clear from the start: the moral infrastructure of human civilisation is not placed in danger by allowing hunting, nor is the age old country way of life seriously jeopardised by banning it (although in fairness country folk have more to lose from the ban than city folk have to gain, a cogent point which curiously I have never seen raised). So this is not at all about where hunting stands on the spectrum of value from absolutely vital to abominably and immoraly profligate. It's all about the fact that a large segment of a given society, at a given time, but for non-specific or badly defined reasons, find a certain human pastime abhorrent.

Examples of a like situations are all too easy to come by. The first and most obvious (though not perhaps the most analogous) is Prohibition. It was passed, as all amendments to the US constitution must be, with a huge majority, and was widely supported by the population. In time, and due to all sorts of complicated things we shall not go into, the tide of popular and political opinion changed, and it had to be repealed. Red faces all round and all that. Oscar Wilde famously said that hunting is the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible; perhaps those who choose to quote this quip in support of the ban on hunting should reflect upon the no less universally acknowledged truth that the only thing worse than being talked about is spending two years in Reading nick for buggery. Which he did, of course, while his contemporary Charles Dodgson was left quite unmolested (no pun intended) in his pursuit of the pre-pubescent Liddel sisters (whom he enjoyed, erm, photographing, apparently). I don't need to tell you which one of them would be doing hard time these days, but it shoud perhaps be pointed out that the difference in their fates then and now would be due to specific legislation which arose from popular movements: the de-criminalisation of homosexuality and the protection of child prostitutes (which then led to wider child protection reforms) were both grass roots movements much like hunt sabotage.

And this brings me to the gist of my argument. Morality and public opinion are equally mutable, despite each generation's protestations to the contrary. Unlike intoxication or homosexuality, however, and too sadly like poor old Butch Oscar, hunting can not be brought back once it is finally banished. The skills will be gone, the hounds and horses will not be bred for it anymore, it will simply vanish. A long standing if controversial British tradition completely eradicated, all for a Puritanical whim of public opinion. And, of course, some will say good riddance.

But the banning of hunting is not very likely to be compared by history to the abolition of slavery, as some anti-hunt arguments so pompously suggest. On the contrary, it is the direct ideological descendant of the spirit of so called modernisation; of the transport system and many English town centres, undertaken in a progressive spirit but now widely viewed as a barren, indeed malevolent desecration of the past in order to make way for an inferior, but agressive, notion of future. We are currently paying a huge price (in taxes) for the decomissioning of so many railway lines. There is an even bigger expenditure on town centers that are being modelled and remodelled by bewildered local councils trying to re-invent the wheel, having lost the historically successful urban layouts of the past. It is not yet clear what the price for further encroachments on the countryside will be, but somehow the piper will have to be paid.

Of course most city dwellers will not feel the pinch of doing away with hunting, and of course secretly they are not at all averse to having others mortified in order to raise the general moral tone of society, exculpating the British public at large of their sins by offering a marginal sub-group as sacrifice. Slavery? No. Witch-hunts.