BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Rural crisis impacts on Hunt Bill protagonists

When it was included in Labour's 1997 manifesto, who could have

predicted that the House of Lord's vote on the controversial Hunt Bill

would take place against the backdrop of the current rural crisis?



Foot-and-mouth all but consumed what was set to be a heated hunting

debate in all media, with high-octane PR campaigns from the pro and

anti-camps. Instead, the two groups have been muted by foot-and-mouth

disease.



The two main parties waging PR campaigns - the pro-hunting Countryside

Alliance and the anti-hunt RSPCA - have respective interests in

foot-and-mouth.



But did the crisis help or hinder the PR surrounding the great hunting

vote in the Lords?



RSPCA senior PRO Lisa Dewhurst says the society's campaign did not

change: 'We've carried out polls during the foot-and-mouth crisis and

two-thirds of the country still believed hunting to be cruel and should

be banned'.



Lords were targeted in various media campaigns outlining the pros for

banning the sport in the run up to the vote.



But it did not stop them from voting overwhelmingly 317 to 68 against

the bill, which, during the January Commons ballot, saw a 213 MP

majority vote in favour of an outright ban.



In contrast, the Lords - amid echoes of 'a terrible waste of

parliamentary time' - voted 249 to 108 for self-regulation.



Was it a countryside sympathy vote in light of recent rural

catastrophes?



Or had the CA's PR campaign, on a low budget compared with that of its

Royal charity rival, been directed sublimely?



'The cancellation of the protest rally on 18 March was a big

disappointment, as we had a full-time team of ten organising what was to

be the biggest civil liberties protest in the UK since the War, if not

in history,' said CA director of communications Nigel Henson.



He added: 'We think the Lords vote was gratifying and proved the issue

cannot be used as a political football. The foot-and-mouth outbreak has

increased public sympathy for the countryside and for those who seek a

livelihood there.'



Given the current crisis, both sides are aware the Bill is unlikely to

make its passage through this parliament.



'We shall lobby for manifesto commitment in the next parliament. Should

the election be postponed, we will act accordingly - the fight will

continue,' said Dewhurst.



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