OPINION: 'Toffs' need to reach out beyond the Tories

When the dust has settled at the end of the Tory Party leadership

election, the winner will have to sell a party that is probably in its

worst state ever.

As I made my way to Scotland last week the cab driver suggested the

Tories should employ my services to help them out of the mess they're

in. I told him that I have given up that game and that it will take more

than a clapped out old spin-doctor to revive their fortunes.

I was travelling to Scotland to help out a gamekeeper friend during the

grouse shooting. Unlike those of us beating, most of those shooting the

grouse were (probably) Conservative supporters and, apart from wanting

to know what I thought about the euro and what Gordon Brown thought

about it, they were also keen to know what is going on in the Tory


The hunting, shooting and fishing brigade are rightly worried that the

party that has traditionally supported their leisure activities is not

likely to form a government for a generation. It seems to them that

there are very few people willing to support them in New Labour.

It is this reliance on the toffs' party that is already threatening the

future of fox-hunting and why there is little sympathy for them among

the electorate at large. It's about time the countryside lobby realised

that they need to make friends with Labour. The problem is that the main

group backing country sports is the Countryside Alliance, whose leaders

openly sneer at Tony Blair. Whatever you may think of the Prime Minister

he is open to persuasion on things such as fox-hunting.

Attacking him may be good fun - but it won't save fox-hunting.

In Scotland, the lobbying on fox-hunting has been much more sensible and

the evidence given to the Scottish Parliament by the Gamekeepers'

Association could win the day. Their approach may have something to do

with the fact that thousands of 'ordinary' peoples' jobs depend on being

able to cull foxes who, left alone, would wipe out the grouse.

The next target of the animal rights mob is fishing. On my radio show

last week we interviewed a woman from People for the Ethical Treatment

of Animals (PETA) who wanted to ban it. She was on many other

programmes, too. She got acres of coverage because her PR team had come

up with an ad showing a dog with a fishing hook in its mouth. As a keen

angler and supporter of the right of people to follow country pursuits,

I wish a similar campaign could be mounted in support of fishing.

For a start, any such PR campaign could show that the vast majority of

those who hunt, shoot and fish are not 'toffs'. Two of Britain's keenest

salmon anglers are Ian Botham and Paul Gascoigne; the lads running my

local corner shop are the keenest shooters I've ever met; and no-one has

ever called me a toff!

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