A New Year, a new government, but we shouldn't place too much trust in the Tories as they may well bend with the breeze of public opinion
At the start of 2020, let me make an observation about the way the main political parties have treated the shooting community. In the run up to the election, it was pointed out that, despite public perceptions of the Conservatives’ empathy with rural interests, it is the Tories who have been responsible for most of the legal restrictions on shooting. So while you might naturally suspect that Labour is innately anti-shooting, the brutal fact is that it is the Conservatives who have enacted most of the UK’s gun control legislation.
This may be true, but it is also misleading with regard to the bigger picture. I think it is the sort of observation made by people who are desperately trying to avoid shooting being pigeonholed as a right-wing or ‘toff’ sport. Yet the naked facts conceal a deeper, more complex truth.
Government and shooting
The real reason why the Tories have enacted the bulk of our national firearms legislation is perfectly simple; it is the Conservative Party that has been in power most of the time. In the 75 years since 1945, the Tories have been in government for about 55 of them. More specifically, they were in power during each of three terrible shootings: Hungerford in 1987, Dunblane in 1996 and Derrick Bird’s murderous rampage in Cumbria in 2010. Each time, there was massive public and media pressure to “do something about guns”.
In the wake of Dunblane, John Major’s enfeebled Government initially proposed legislation that would have allowed the continued ownership of small-calibre handguns. But it was the resurgent Labour Party, under Tony Blair, that insisted on a total handgun ban as soon as it came into power.
After the 2010 Cumbrian shootings, the then Prime Minister David Cameron made calm and well-reasoned statements to the media. His opponents in the Labour Party tried to smear him, saying he was in hock to the so-called ‘gun lobby’. They knew that Cameron was himself a keen deer stalker and an occasional game shooter. But he was a good communicator and managed to head off the sort of knee-jerk legislation that had been spawned by earlier tragedies.
It’s not that the Conservatives are reliably pro-shooting. Like any political party, their sails are filled by the blustery winds of public opinion. But, unlike Labour and the Scottish Nasty Party, they are not actively seeking to target us as part of a wider political narrative. And that’s a massive difference.
Lest we forget, it was a Labour government that banned hunting with hounds. And we all know that this was an act of sheer spite. It had nothing to do with helping animals and everything to do with demonising certain sorts of people.
No point irritating enemies
Of course, we shooters should try to get on with every political party as best we can. There is no point in irritating our enemies, nor manufacturing more than we already have. As a tiny minority group, we would be unwise to get too closely associated with any particular faction. And we cannot take any party for granted.
But let’s not kid ourselves about who the real enemies are. You only have to look at the rantings of the SNP, Labour and the Greens to know that, for them, we form a convenient foe. Of course, we should try to keep off their agenda. But given that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, we must never take our eye off our enemies. Or our friends.