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
The two main parties waging PR campaigns - the pro-hunting Countryside
Alliance and the anti-hunt RSPCA - have respective interests in
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
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
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
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.