Once it became clear that the proposed amendment to the 2004 Hunting Act didn’t really mean a return to unfettered hunting of foxes with hounds, but was really all about the exemption in the legislation for hunting “undertaken for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild animal”, it was obvious that it was in fact intended as an animal welfare measure. All that those Tory MPs had in mind was how best to carry out their observations and studies efficiently. “So, Mr Fox – purely in the interests of research, you understand – what will you miss most when you’ve lost a few body parts?”
Just answer the damn question — if you wouldn’t mind helping us with our research…
Well, who could object to that? It’s a bit like the Japanese finding it necessary to slaughter a few thousand whales each year “for research purposes”. I can never remember — is it bits of tigers or rhinos that are so vital in reinforcing the sinews of chaps of a certain age, and is it the same in the UK with hunters and fox parts? Is it acceptable to cull dentists from Minnesota to see how — or if — their brains work when they’ve just run amok amongst the Zimbabwean lion population?Anyway, it was reassuring that our overworked politicians were prepared to make time in their schedules for animal wellbeing issues so early in the life of the new parliament. And such a shame that it all came unstuck. Whatever next? Parliamentary time devoted to something really important, like dismembering the BBC or the NHS?
Other than that, it’s generally been a good week or two.
Here in Sussex we’re pleased to claim Eric Ravilious as one of our own, knocking out his distinctive brand of watercolours of the South Downs and elsewhere up to and during WW2, sadly meeting his end in 1942 when his plane went missing off Iceland. He was 39 and a highly regarded war artist. Dulwich picture gallery has been hosting a major exhibition of his work. It’s been packing them in and Mrs. Blog and I used it as an opportunity to meet up with Blogdaughter who managed (almost) to find her way there from London unaided. It’s on until the end of August and well worth poking a stick at.
Then to Scotland, travelling first class, courtesy of nice Richard Branson and his Virgin Trains. (Remember when we thought Branson and Virgin were quite, well, hip, as distinct from bloody irritating?) In fact, he wasn’t being over generous. My freebie came in compensation for a seven hour delay on a Virgin Train in soaring temperatures just outside Crewe last summer on the way back from the Commonwealth Games. I have nothing at all against Crewe, you understand – it would have been brilliant just to get there.
The highlights of my trip to SNP country? The world’s best cooked breakfast, in a small café in central Scotland — great food but I wasn’t to be tempted by their Saturday morning Football Special of “the full works plus pint of lager”.
What’s not to like? Black pudding, square sausage, potato scone, double statin…
And a day trip to Falkirk to take in the world’s only rotating barge lift and the “Kelpies” via the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus. Definitely top attractions. I won’t try to describe – here are some nice pics.
Back home to Lewes and its annual Speakers’ Festival. We’re fortunate in such a small town to have a good number of people who are prepared and able to take on the organisation of such events. I could be wrong but I think this festival may have had its origins in an earlier “Thomas Paine Festival”, which ran for a number of years from 4 July (you’ll have heard this date mentioned occasionally on Friends or The Simpsons?) to 14 July (an excellent day, I understand, for storming the Bastille) – no decent revolution being possible once upon a time without the active involvement of that former Lewes resident. To quote The Guardian’s coverage of the Thomas Paine celebrations:
“There’s something in the water in Lewes, and probably in the beer as well. The beautiful East Sussex town is stuffed with historic buildings and museums, dear little tea rooms and shops selling flowery dresses and posh chocolates. It looks true blue Tory to its flint foundations: in fact it’s been a hotbed of seething anarchy, rebellion, and downright stroppiness since records began.”
And I think many Lewesians would settle for that.
Anyway, I detect a similar strand running through the Speakers’ Festival. Last year this blog reported on contributions by Kate Adie (not at all stroppy) and Polly Toynbee (very stroppy), and this year this blog booked to see the Beast of Bolsover, aka Dennis Skinner MP. First elected to Parliament in 1970, I believe DS is now one of the longest serving, and probably one of the oldest, Members.
It seemed unlikely that many would turn up to such an event in order to challenge his take on modern politics or to seek to engage in detailed discussion about the public sector borrowing requirement. More of an opportunity to hear direct from one of a dying breed of working class Labour MPs (he was a miner) with little interest in claiming the political middle ground. He had no time, of course, for Tories, pairing, right wing press, time-serving Labour members, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Royalty, serving on Select Committees, All-Party Parliamentary groups, foreign junkets or claiming expenses. I suspect that Dennis’s constituents know what they’re getting when they vote him back in. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I particularly relished his tale of “talking out” Enoch Powell’s bill to block stem cell research by moving a writ to hold a by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Places, I assume, he would have known little about but on which he succeeded in speaking for the three hours necessary to prevent debating time for Powell’s ill-conceived measure. He will, when his permanent seat in the Chamber — front bench, below the gangway — eventually becomes vacant, be missed.
There are, Mr Speaker, and I do not exaggerate, almost a thousand streets within the constituency of Brecon and Radnor, each with a distinctive street name. You will bear with me, I am sure, while I list them. The people of Brecon — and, I might add, the good folk of Radnor — deserve no less…. Good heavens, Mr Speaker, is that the time?
Readers may legitimately query Skinner’s use of a parliamentary device (the by-election writ) but, for all that, I have now read through the transcript of that debate in Hansard, and it’s a hoot:
Overall, it’s been something of a politics week for this blog. It has just finished reading “Honourable Friends?” by Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green Party MP (Brighton Pavilion). Kept me awake at nights. If you never read another book on what’s wrong – and a little of what’s right – about politics in this country, do read this one and I doubt you’ll view the world in the same way again.