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Ambridge says "no" to hunt ban - by WR Thom

Early on the morning of the Liberty and Livelihood March I walked my terriers across a field of stubble near the edge of town. As usual the heron was standing on the drain, as still and controlled as Darcy Bussell. Last year she mated and produced three incredibly ungainly young. They were so unlike their mother that it was as though Kristin Scott Thomas had spawned the Addams Family.

Soon they may well have to find new homes, as John Prescott, in his first flush of enthusiasm as Minister for this, that and the other thing, decided the field would be enhanced by a few hundred houses. Of course, Mr. Prescott has never seen this field or given a thought to the thousands of years it has been ploughed, sown and harvested. Or that it once belonged to Earl Harold, the last Saxon King of England, and later to Edward, the Black Prince. Or that the houses, if built, will be far too expensive for the young of the town.

I contemplated all this as my terriers sniffed for rabbits and then with the word "freedom" in my mind I thought of John Hampden who lived just three miles away. His refusal to pay Ship Money made him one of the most famous men of his time and when the King threatened to arrest him a thousand Buckinghamshire men rode to Westminster to defend him.

After taking the dogs back through the High Street (which has lost three ironmongers, two butchers, two greengrocers, a baker, a dairy and various pubs in the last few years) I was soon boarding a coach with the modern equivalent of those horsemen who were as determined as their predecessors and certainly just as angry.

The anger was the main difference between this march and the Countryside March of 1998. Back then we really did think that the Government would "Listen to Us" as our placards stated. Back then we were not quite used to Tony Blair's desire to please the people he is talking to at any one time without realising the consequences. We were certainly not naive this time. The banners were angrier, the shouts were angrier and even the tread of our boots seemed angrier. And yet, beneath the anger there was still the same good humour and good manners of the previous march even when we were passing the offices of D.E.F.R.A. At most marches the object of the participants' scorn would have to be defended by an army of riot-geared constables: just three constables stood on the steps and smiled at our ironic jeers. Surely any sensible government would not want to make enemies of such law-abiding people?

From a lot of the comments that could be heard they would be rather silly to do so. Many repeated Sir Mark Prescott's words at Hyde Park: "This is the last peaceful rally" and usually added "really" after the first word.

No-one could fault the Countryside Alliance's organisation of this march but many were critical of its reluctance to upset the government over the last couple of years. Had fewer marchers than 1998 arrived the Alliance could have been rather embarrassed but the huge turnout has probably saved its blushes. The organisation can expect little help from D.E.F.R.A. if the reactions of Alun Michael were examples of its thinking. He gave the impression that nothing of any importance had happened and considered that the anti-Apartheid and C.N.D. marches of his youth were far more significant. For the record, the highest attendance at any of these marches was 250,000 but most of them drew no more than 15,000. And we don't dig up cricket pitches!

Alun Michael's musings would have been of little interest to the thousands of children on the march. They were quite sure why they were there. There were six on our coach with the youngest only three. For the whole of the twelve hours they were away from home their behaviour was, there is only one suitable word, angelic. Three of them are the children of Mike Smith of the Old Berkeley Beagles: to think of those lovely children losing their home and the company of the beagle puppies (surely the most beguiling of animals) is unthinkable. All through that long day I heard only one child cry and she was inconsolable - she had lost her Bob the Builder tape measure. There can be no greater tragedy when you are three than losing your Bob the Builder tape measure: I hope she remembers the incident in twenty years time when she is out hunting.

On the way home my wife and I listened to "The Archers". Now that M.F.H. Oliver Stirling is a major character the writers and producers could not ignore this march as they had the previous one. Again we heard the shouts, the whistles and the hunting horns as a sort of reprise of the afternoon. And when Shula was shepherding the cast back into their coach I realised I had missed printing the best placard of all. AMBRIDGE SAYS 'NO' TO HUNT BAN. That might have got me on the telly!

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