Are political lefties the natural enemies of traditional country pursuits such as shooting? The answer might seem obvious. Just look at the MPs who signed the League Against Cruel Sports? Early Day Motion against gameshooting; at the time of writing, there are 16, and of those 13 are Labour and two are Lib Dems. ?Nuff said?
Well, no, because there are a total of 650 MPs. The vast majority of MPs ? including those on the left ? simply ignored the call to ban gameshooting. As a group, lefties are not invariably anti-shooting. In fact, in some parts of the world left-wing politicians are some of the sport?s staunchest allies.
So why is it that in the UK, some high-profile lefties ? and the media that serves them ? are so hostile to shooting? My theory is that it is because the antis are able to whip up knee-jerk antipathy to shooting on the false basis that it is a sport of the privileged few.
I have been thinking about this after a reader, N. Reiter, (Letters, 4 July) criticised me for being beastly about The Guardian columnist George Monbiot. Mr Monbiot is an implacable anti who uses his platform to spread poison about the shooting community. He characterises shooters as callous Tory toffs who degrade the environment. He ridicules the shooting community?s concern for the environment as a smokescreen. His toff-bashing stance plays well with his chosen audience.
Mr Monbiot is, of course, a lefty. But he is not exactly a downtrodden proletarian. As a boy, he attended a fee-paying school that had its own pack of beagles. As it happens, I was at the same school. It helped nurture my love of the countryside and fieldsports; in Mr Monbiot it seems to have had the opposite effect. Based on his school experience, Mr Monbiot decided that fieldsports were the preserve of posh folk. This accounts for much of his hostility towards shooting. His most recent diatribe in The Guardian wasn?t about buzzard licensing ? that was merely the topical hook on which hung his latest attack on gameshooting generally.
This same misconception of shooting as a weird, aristocratic throwback infects some of the media ? not only proudly left-wing papers such as The Guardian and The Independent, but also the BBC, whose internal attitudes have been confirmed by one of its own, the presenter Andrew Marr. During an investigation into the corporation?s coverage in 2007, Mr Marr wrote that there was an ?innate liberal bias inside the BBC?, which he attributed to the unrepresentative make-up of the corporation?s workforce.
The broad church of fieldsports
The irony of all this, of course, is that you and I know that shooting is a very broad church, welcoming people from all walks of life. Some years ago, BASC carried out a membership survey which showed that the shooting community mirrored the make-up of society as a whole, albeit with a male bias. In this, the social composition of the shooting community is probably not dissimilar to that of football fans. The only difference is that, statistically, certificate holders are the more law-abiding group.
Left-wing politicians are not inherently anti-shooting, so much as anti-privilege. But too many of them are easily persuaded that shooting is a toff?s game, and they may not always realise just how many of their constituents shoot. By a crude calculation, the average MP?s constituency may contain a thousand shooters, a number that could tip the balance of power in many seats.
In the US, deer hunting is recognised as the weekend sport of factory workers. In France, the law gives shooters a right to roam in pursuit of their quarry. Why are political perceptions of shooting so very different here in the UK?