And so to Waterloo station to meet the Rural Rocket from Basingstoke. I was clad in a tweed jacket, corduroy trousers, cloth cap and a Liberty and Livelihood March badge. I was indistinguishable from everyone else on the concourse. The train pulled in punctually at 9.45, disgorging over 800 defenders of the rural way of life, blessed by the Bishop of Basingstoke and, in some cases, fortified by the contents of the hipflask. George Clowes, the organiser, had done a grand job in mobilising the good folk of North Hampshire.
The March in Whitehall
We lined up behind three bagpipers and set off for Blackfriars Bridge, past enterprising tradesmen from the capital selling us horns and whistles.
It soon became clear that the numbers on the March greatly exceeded the numbers expected. We were sent on a substantial detour – almost it seemed to rural Kent – before we were allowed across the river and back to the starting point. It took two hours to get from Waterloo to Blackfriars Bridge, and then one hour to complete the march.
It was very exhilarating and cheerful. The mood was positive. There were a few anti-hunt protesters but they were politely ignored.
Those who believe that this was a class-based march could not have been more wrong; people from all strata of society were on the march, each with their own particular motive but all believing that their rural way of life was under attack from a government with its roots in the towns and cities. I talked to ramblers; to farmers; to horseriders; to shopkeepers and publicans; to a subpostmistress or two; to the proprietor of a number of ferrets and to folk who shoot. Basically, even if they didn’t hunt, they didn’t want to be told what they could or could not do by the metropolitan majority.
The Government professes disinterest; nonsense. Blair’s strategy has been to avoid winding people up unnecessarily and here were nearly a half a million people – many of whom may have voted Labour at some point - so tightened that they had given up their day of rest to come to London and march. Many shared our views but, for good reasons, were unable to come along.
Any party that wants to govern the whole country cannot afford to alienate such a huge chunk of decent loyal folk on an issue – banning hunting - that by no stretch of the imagination should dominate the political agenda at the moment. My advice to him is to settle for the Middle Way on hunting, and then start building some bridges.