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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Hunt supporters not yet ready to pack it in

Fighting back: Peter Wybergh, Master of the Cumberland Farmers Foxhounds at  Welton

By David Siddall

CUMBRIAN Tory MP David Maclean is spearheading a political bid to try to restore fox hunting.

The political campaigning to overturn the hunting ban came as all the Cumbrian packs staged a traditional Boxing Day event.

The Eskdale and Ennerdale pack left their kennels in the valley and there was a big turnout of supporters as the hounds chased a trail that had been laid around the valley.

The pack operated within the limitations of the hunting ban.

Nationally thousands of hunting supporters have been drafted in to the 100 key seats that will decide the next election, to campaign for Conservatives who support an immediate repeal of the ban.

On what is traditionally the biggest day in the foxhunting calendar, some 250,000 people turned at hunts out across the country.

Vote-Ok’s army of hunt supporters is expected to number close to 30,000 in the run-up to the next election.

The campaign’s volunteers are already embedded in key seats where Labour or Liberal Democrats MPs and candidates are pledged to keep the hunting ban in place.

They are working in crucial urban marginals such as Battersea, where Labour has a majority of just 163. They are providing hours of their time to knock on doors, deliver leaflets, and address envelopes.

With the average age of Tory activists close to 64, the deployment of thousands of young hunt campaigners has provided a huge fillip both to sitting Tory MPs and to candidates who have been chosen to fight the next election. In the marginal seats where the repeal of hunting is not an issue, the volunteers do not mention field sports on the doorstep.

The operation is being co-ordinated within the Tory party by David Maclean, chief whip in John Major’s government and the MP for Penrith.

The Tories already have a £2million fund to help their candidates in marginal seats. The fund is directed by Lord Ashcroft, who is in charge of campaigning at party headquarters.

The Ashcroft operation has led to demands from many Labour MPs for a cap on campaign spending in constituencies in between elections. The Tories in turn point to donations from trades unions into Labour seats each year.

Mr Cameron has pledged a free vote on hunting if he becomes prime minister.

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