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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Hunting for a democratic debate

The Western Mail reports that the hunting lobby has set up a website to track Rural Affairs Minister, Alun Michael, around the Country. The objective appears to be to facilitate the sort of protests and intimidation that has already led Mr. Michael to cancel a number of engagements. I am not going to provide a link to that site, as I do not wish to encourage people to participate in these disreputable tactics.

I have commented in the past about the personalisation of politics. The danger is that if you focus your arguments and your campaign on one person who you consider responsible for an injustice, then you are failing to engage in the democratic process.

Democracy at its best is about engaging in discussion around strongly held beliefs and winning a majority for your views. At its worst it is about the sort of intimidation and bully-boy tactics now being adopted by the pro-hunting lobby, tactics previously pioneered by some very dodgy organisations indeed.

I am not saying that there is no place for strongly lobbying the particular Minister or individual who is responsible for making a decision, that is a legitimate means of getting one’s case across. However, in this case, the House of Commons have made the decision on a free vote, not Alun Michael. The debate has now moved into the House of Lords and if the pro-hunting lobby wish to participate in it then they need to lobby members of that House.

It is of course perfectly reasonable to make representations to the Minister about the use of the Parliament Act, as that seems to be an important part of the process. But that lobbying must be done peacefully and depend on the force of argument not the force of numbers.

It may well be that those who have set up this website want to facilitate reasonable approaches to the Rural Affairs Minister on this issue. That is certainly what they say. However, they are fully aware that there are a number of hotheads and unreasonable people in their movement who will use it as an opportunity to overstep the mark. These people are not naïve that is why they are irresponsible. They must step back from the intention to drive the Minister from the countryside and engage instead in the democratic process.

One person who does seem to be increasingly naïve in this whole sorry affair is Lembit Opik MP (and for the avoidance of doubt I have spoken to him before posting this). He is quoted in the article as saying, “the website should be treated lightly provided they stressed non-violent forms of protest.” Incredibly he goes on to add, “Alun has Peter Hain to thank for this new website. Peter Hain on Any Questions last week said direct action was perfectly legitimate. I agree that violence is not acceptable and I trust the organisers of this website will stress the importance of non-violence in whatever they plan to do.”

Lembit has resumed the high wire act of a few weeks ago. Inappropriate as this analogy is given his previous history in the air, Lembit is flying too close to the sun and is in danger of getting his wings burned. I hope that he knows what he is doing.

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