Opinion: Opportunistic PR whips up hunting frenzy

The PR boxing ring surrounding the fox hunting issue is commanding ringside seats by political spinners and passionate pro or anti-hunt advocates, and the spectacle is increasing daily in news and PR content alike. A Conservative friend, at a dinner party I held at the weekend, said 'I hope we can have a really good argument about foxhunting' - but only one other (Labour) guest, oddly in a mainly Labour-voting group, was against hunting.

Yet the issue is cast as Labour versus Tory when it is more visceral than political and has much to do with the way people who live in cities regard those who live in the country. If ever caricature was used as a PR tool, it is here: the livery of red-jacket foxhunting is a powerful image, with the fox portrayed as a villain or a victim.

The Government has won the political war but is emerging as bloody as a fox against a noisy and colourful crowd who know a thing or two about PR - The Countryside Alliance and its supporters. They are so enraged that there is talk of some of the wealthiest landowners denying the Army the right to train on huge tracts of British land: surely a powerful sanction by anyone's reckoning.

And then there are the stunts. On the same day that the predicted majority was won (somewhat foxily including a politically wily post-election delay), the media got an eyeful of protest to happily fill front pages and news bulletins. Outside the House of Commons were scenes redolent of the Poll Tax riots. Bruised and battered hunt supporters could be seen limping toward the TV cameras - another powerful image to rock the effect of a solid Government vote.

Inside Parliament, hunt supporters associated with no less than celebrity and royalty broke past security and entered the chamber. Singer Bryan Ferry told The Observer 'he just had this look in his eye' on seeing his hunt-leading son Otis about to lead the attack.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael had to pull out of a march to celebrate the right to roam for fear of reprisal, and it was alleged that Prince Charles would hunt beyond the ban.

Where would any of this be without powerful, opportunistic PR organising and orchestrating to maximum effect? PR such as this is, as The Independent on Sunday remarked, 'the spirit of the age'.

Julia Hobsbawm is professor of public relations at the London College of Communication. Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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