Never underestimate the power of the single-issue group. That, surely, must be the message from the interview today with George Bowyer, the national director of Vote OK, a pro-hunt organisation that helped at least 36 Conservative MPs win their seats at the last general election.
Although the Tories failed an outright victory on polling day in May 2010, the party surely benefited from the 15,000 volunteers who campaigned on behalf of pro-hunt candidates.
Whether it has adequately repaid that debt remains to be seen. What's not in doubt, however, is that there has been no repeal of the Hunting Act under David Cameron's premiership nor any relaxation of the law which would have allowed sheep farmers in upland areas to use more than two hounds to flush foxes that are killing their lambs to the gun. That's just one reason that Mr Bowyer has for warning the countryside will be "hard to stir up" come polling day in May 2015. Others include persistently slow broadband and poor mobile phone coverage in rural areas, part of what many people – not just hunt supporters – see as relentlessly urban-centric policies from all the major political parties.
With more than a year to go before polling day it is clear Vote OK is biding its time before deciding whether to mobilise its not inconsiderable resources behind candidates who undertake to support the repeal of the Hunting Act. What it really wants is a manifesto commitment from the Conservatives to bring forward a Bill to do just that in the next Parliament – probably on a free vote. As Mr Bowyer cryptically puts it "If the Conservatives won another 36 seats that would give them a majority. But we haven't got going yet. We're just waiting to see how enthused people are."
So is there anything wrong with single-issue groups lending their support towards candidates – and parties – that promise to fight for their cause if elected? Nothing at all. And at a time when politics in general has lost so much credibility with the public, promising to do something for a single issue group is one way of re-igniting interest in what politicians can do. If any party wants to take advantage of that, it needs only to devise policies that support the cause. Of course it must also deliver. Accepting the help and then failing to repay the debt is asking for trouble – as the Tories may soon discover.