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Warning of Tories losing rural votes

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 19, 2014

Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of Countryside Alliance

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The Conservative Party risks jeopardising 500,000 votes if it fails to pledge to repeal the ban on fox hunting in its manifesto, the leading country sports pressure group has warned.

Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, also called for a cabinet post dedicated to rural affairs against fears a traditional core of Tory voters feel alienated.

Sir Barney told The Times the group "want and expect" a pledge to reverse the Hunting Act, and argued the countryside "deserved better" from the Government on a range of issues. A free Commons vote on repealing the legislation remains part of the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, so in theory could take place before next year's election.

But even pro-hunting MPs are reluctant to put the issue to a vote, fearing they would not have enough support to triumph.

As a result, supporters will be keen to secure a promise from the Conservative Party in their pitch to the electorate.

Sir Barney said that there was a constituency of about 500,000 people whose support depended on a pledge to abolish Labour's controversial Act.

The fear for the Conservatives is Ukip starts to attract its countryside support. A poll of Countryside Alliance members last year found 13 per cent were planning to vote for Nigel Farage's party next year.

Sir Barney said: "We would like to see (the repeal of the Hunting Act) and I think people would expect that.

"We would want to see a commitment to repeal, tempered with a realistic view that we need some sort of new legal framework in which hunting would operate in the future. People are going to vote depending on this. There is half a million people there whose vote it will influence quite strongly and people will help."

Earlier this year, pro-hunting group Vote OK warned that the countryside will be "hard to stir up" at the general election because rural issues have been neglected. The group, which flooded marginal seats with an army of 15,000 volunteers at the last election, has said a Tory manifesto pledge will "motivate a lot more activists".

Polls suggest that Mr Cameron would face a huge battle to lift the ban. An Ipsos-Mori poll from November 2013 found eight out of ten wanted to keep the ban on fox hunting in place.

Rural voters showed no greater support for lifting the ban than those in urban areas, and the move would be unpopular among women, 90% of whom want to keep the ban in place.

"We are genuinely apolitical," Sir Barney said. "But it would be naive to say that people aren't going to vote for the party that is most likely to repeal (the Hunting Act)."

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  • nilocsue  |  August 22 2014, 8:49AM

    5th para "As a result, supporters will be keen to secure a promise from the Conservative Party in their pitch to the electorate." They did that in 2010 and got Dave's promise then, bit like the Lisbon Treaty. Some folks never learn, there is an election in 2015 Dave will promise again, even maybe put it in his Manefesto....neither mean a thing......afterwards. Power is all, not representation. Learn from their actions not their words. That applies to LibDem's and Labour equally.

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