The Hunts’ SPECTACULAR own goal
Why public Boxing Day meets give antis a significant platform
Nothing stopped me from going out on Boxing Day. Not the heavy and relentless rain, not my excruciating toothache, not even the loss of a family day at home by the fire. But, goodness me, I’m glad I went. Looking back on it now and reviewing it as a whole, I know for certain that it was more than worth it.
Every Boxing Day, the Portman Hunt meet publicly in Blandford and afterwards, they gleefully point to the number of supporters who turn out to see them off, making wild claims that they are more popular than ever. It makes us very angry. So for the past three years, we have also turned up to protest, with the aim of explaining to the public what the Boxing Day meet really means. We want them to know that “respectable” well-turned out men and women who happily abuse and kill wild animals for fun are no more than criminals. And it is working; the public see us and are, without any shadow of a doubt, beginning to understand that while they might like watching the horses and the hounds set off, they really wouldn’t want to see what they do next. And what a platform the hunt has given us! And how, over the past three years, things have changed!
After the meet in 2018, the Blackmore Vale Magazine’s headline read “STRONG TURNOUT FOR BOXING DAY MEET”. “Appreciative” members of the public, they said, lined the streets “eager to see the traditional event”. But, this year the headline read, “ ‘CONFRONTATIONAL’ SCENES AT BOXING DAY MEET IN BLANDFORD”. Last year the paper erroneously said that we were there to call “for the hunting ban to stay in place”. (We were actually there to draw attention to the criminal activities of the Portman Hunt, but they didn’t want to mention that, of course). This year, the paper used a quotation from AAF’s Facebook page, saying “Is it part of their ‘tradition’ that they aren’t bound by the same rules as the rest of us?” None of this would have been in the paper at all if the hunts hadn’t kindly given us a public platform in Blandford, which we took full advantage of on the day.
And Blandford wasn’t the only place this happened. There were many many protests all around the country, some of them organised by local AAF groups. In Lewes, protester numbers probably reached 100; in Keswick, there were so many it is difficult to give a number. In Chesham, there were at least 60 protestors with banners. Priddy, Grantham, Tenterden, Torrington – the list goes on. There were more protests on New Year’s Day too. Many of these are new groups, protesting for the first time. And next year, there will be even more.
Not only did the meets give us a public platform on the day itself, but they also gave us a significant focus in the run up too. Many official bodies associated with the Boxing Day hunt meets – local authorities; town councils; highways; health& safety and the police – were approached. People were asking why and who was allowing the meets. It turned out that while the rest of us would expect to have to ask permission and complete risk assessments, the hunts apparently did not. Most hunts just showed up on the day, having sought no permissions and made no official arrangements whatsoever. When activists started questioning this, some of the hunts were forced to respond. The local paper in Lewes said that The Master of the South Downs and Eridge Hunt was “drowning in paper work”, thanks, of course to the tireless efforts of AAF Sussex. Torrington Town Council puzzled over (and tried to avoid answering) a whole barrage of questions about their involvement in the meet. Castle Cary Town Council shot to infamy after a petition asking them to distance themselves from the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt gained over 109,000 signatures.
Not only that, but the forthcoming Boxing Day meets offered AAF a clear purpose for our trademark leaflet drops too. I sent out 20,000 “Don’t go to the Boxing Day Hunt Meet” leaflets to groups and individuals all over the country and many of them also made copious use of our “Let’s not meet on Boxing Day” stickers. Towns, villages, cities were all leafleted. I personally leafleted Castle Cary and several times people came out of their houses to assure me that they weren’t going to the Boxing Day meet and to thank me for the leaflet. In Blandford, having made ourselves highly noticeable by erecting a 6’ bloody-faced mannequin dressed in hunting gear and brandishing a disembowelled (toy) fox, we handed out hundreds of leaflets to market day shoppers.
After Boxing Day, interest in AAF’s Facebook page exploded; “likes” increased by 400% and they are still increasing. We had a backlog of people asking to join our group for Active Volunteers. We number 660 now, across the country and volunteers are out leafleting and arranging outreach events as I type.
Hunts have defiantly said that they will be back next year. Their stock response to anti-blood sports resistance is to show utter contempt, belittling and discrediting us whenever they can. They want us to be seen as crackpot extremists. But when thousands of people all over the country are objecting to cruel and criminal activities, this old tactic is becoming rather counter-productive. The arrogance the hunts display in continuing to show off in public on Boxing Day is fuelling the anti-blood sports movement and drawing opposition from every quarter of the country. So, my message to the hunts is this:
“Your gift of a public platform on Boxing Day was most welcome. Do this again in 2020, and it’ll be the gift that keeps on giving. Perfect.”