It's not sporting

Posted: Jul 09, 2003 12:00 AM

LONDON -- "It's total prejudice," said Lindsey Hill, one of hundreds of women waving their underwear in front of 10 Downing St. and Parliament last week. A friend nodded, then added: the "good old class-war thing."

Hill is the press officer for the Union of Country Sports Workers, which supports foxhunting, despite the unflagging efforts of the Labor Party to ban it. The ladies unfurling their knickers called their campaign "pants to prejudice" -- an effort to educate the British public that not all hunters are upper-crust men dressed in crimson jackets and jodhpurs.

Probably they saw the potent force soccer moms have played in American politics, and figured maybe venery moms would work.

Alas, the gambit failed. Last week, the House of Commons voted 362 to 154 to ban hunting with dogs -- that is foxhunting, deer hunting and hare hunting.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been pushing for something called the "middle way" that wouldn't alienate rural voters by banning hunting, but would over-regulate the chase -- a semi-ban.

But his fellow Laborites would have nothing to do with a compromise bill. Labor, instead, backed a total ban, and Blair did not protest.

Ah, the irony: A large political faction so violently opposes a small number of humans and dogs chasing and murdering a rural pest that it turns into a vengeful pack itself, running down an endangered sport once considered an esteemed English tradition. Starving and wounding the sport wasn't enough -- Labor wanted a kill.

The House of Lords is expected to fight the bill -- but observers predict that foxhunting in England and Wales will be history by 2005.

The hunters feebly argue that without traditional foxhunts, people will shoot foxes rather than hunt them with dogs; the wounded ones will die slowly. They warn also that foxhounds aren't brought up to be pets and that a hunting ban would force the dogs' owners to put them down. They say that ending hunting is not compassionate. (Even I am not convinced.)

But when hunting foes talk about the sport's cruelty, they seem unaware that when foxes kill poultry or livestock, there's wounding, pain and death -- just as when dogs kill foxes. (At least the hunt gets rid of pests that kill farm animals.)

I think Dennis J. Foster, executive director of the Masters of the Foxhounds Association of America, got it right when he said that most hunting opponents "don't give a darn about the fox. They don't think people should be riding around on horses (while) wearing red coats."

Bingo -- Laborites oppose hunting because they see it as the pursuit of stiff-lipped toffs.

Their fanaticism is so visceral that Gerald Kaufman, a member of Parliament, actually threatened to vote against a key Blair hospital bill if the hunting-ban bill failed.

No justice, no peace. No hunting ban, no health?

When predator welfare is more important than healthcare, you know the fox is irrelevant. The real issue is urban versus rural; Labor versus leisure class.

When confronted with such prejudice, there's nothing the ladies waving their underpants could say that would make a difference.

The issue is power. The majority has the power to write laws that tell the minority what it cannot do. The majority is not content to hector foxhunters, or try to persuade them to be kinder in their kills. The majority wants to force the minority -- ostensibly a privileged elite -- to obey. Or else.

Sometimes the highest purpose of government isn't to protect or to serve, but to provide believers with the delicious satisfaction of forcing other people to do as they say. Tally ho.