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Over 400,000 make their voices heard!

The head of the ‘Liberty’ march moves down Piccadilly past Clarges Street.

The Liberty and Livelihood March through London last Sunday was officially recognised as the biggest civil liberty protest in British history. The pro-hunting lobby made their presence felt on the London streets, blowing hunting horns, carrying placards and effigies of Prime Minister Tony Blair – many showing him as a hunted fox. Their message was clear – ban hunting at your risk, Prime Minister. Campaigners sent a defiant message to the Government yesterday when a total of 407,791 farmers, hunters and rural workers joined one of the biggest protests held in London.

But in a show of typical political arrogance, the Government said it was pressing ahead, without delay, with plans to introduce a fox-hunting Bill. The march organisers warned that the country would "erupt in fury" if the Government ignored its demands on hunting.

The Kennel Club, in common with so many of the other clubs, in the Mayfair area took the unprecedented step of opening its doors to members on a Sunday. Over 50 lunches were served during the day, indicating the strong presence of a large contingent of KC members, as well as members of staff, adding their voices to those in protest.

The KC was no longer sitting on the fence, no longer politely rising above the political and personal arguments over the implications of a hunting ban. The implications are all too clear: Thousands of hounds will be destroyed if a hunt ban is enacted, therefore the Government’s planned Bill is anti-dog.

In another unprecedented move, the KC also dropped its dress code for the day, and several officers and staff were seen in the unfamiliar apparel of jeans and sweatshirts. But although their dress may have been casual, their mood was businesslike.

KC Chief Executive Mrs Rosemary Smart and Field Trials Secretary Mrs Rosemary Hall stood at the top of Clarges Street holding a banner which proclaimed the KC’s support for the hunters and its opposition to any Bill.

Kennel Club Chief Executive Rosemary Smart and KC Field Trials Secretary Rosemary Hall
show the strength of Kennel Club feeling against the Government’s proposed
Hunting With Dogs Bill at the Liberty and Livelihood March last weekend.
Stoically they stood and waved the banners at the end of Clarges Street for the
whole day as the ‘Liberty’ march moved east along Piccadilly towards St. James’s.
We are assured that Mrs Smart is not holding a pint of bitter but a Starbuck’s coffee!

In amongst the first 10,000 marchers to be counted were OUR DOGS Editor Bill Moores and Advertising Manager John Holden. Also marching was KC grandee, former Crufts Chairman and BVA President Mike Stockman and KC Field Trial Committee chairman Mr Alan Rountree over from his home in northern Ireland. Many other OUR DOGS breeder correspondents and contributors joined the march and added their support, while hundreds of working dog enthusiasts and field trials participants also took part, either as individuals or in club groups.

KC Secretary, Caroline Kisko said: "The Kennel Club staff and members were pleased to attend the March on Sunday, complete with banners, and were delighted to note that over 400,000 people turned up to represent the 'Countryside' and demonstrate the depth of feeling that this issue is causing. We were also delighted to see so many people present on the march from the world of dogs covering all the different disciplines and we were glad that we could lend our support to the march".

The Countryside Alliance claimed that more than 400,000 people turned up for the Liberty and Livelihood march, which used two routes through the centre of London. The Alliance claims that the protest was the largest "by a mile" that the country had seen, surpassing the CND demonstrations of the early 1980s and the later, bitter disputes over the poll tax. The Metropolitan Police indulged in their usual "downscaling" of any such protest and estimated the numbers at 300,000.

Fox hunting dominated the march, which passed along Whitehall and past Downing Street, but farmers complaining about low prices and the Government's handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak also joined the throng that disrupted central London all day. The marchers arrived in 2,500 coaches in response to a huge publicity campaign.

John Jackson, the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Anybody who thinks this is just about hunting must be living on a different planet from the rest of us." However, hunting was a litmus test for the Government to show willingness to deal justly with rural issues, he said. "If they make the mistake of doing something that's unjust, I have no doubt that the countryside will erupt in fury," he said.


Despite the presence of 150 anti-hunt protesters in Parliament Square, the march was peaceful. It was split in two because of the expected crowds, with starting points at Hyde Park and Blackfriars Bridge. Both began at 10am and people were still passing down Whitehall at 5.30pm.

The two routes converged in Whitehall where protesters were urged to fall silent as they approached the Cenotaph to demonstrate respect and the strength of their feeling.

But the Labour government announced that it will press ahead without delay with plans to outlaw hunting in a direct rebuff to the Countryside Alliance marchers.

Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs minister, said he would not be influenced by the strength of feeling shown by the demonstration and accused its organisers of being in a "muddle."

Mr Michael has just completed a six-month review into the future of bloodsports and is expected to recommend a ban on hunting with hounds, with only limited exceptions. He predicted his plans would be published "in weeks rather than months" and that the divisive issue could finally be settled within a year.

Unlike the previous Countryside Alliance lobby of London, no minister was present at yesterday's march and Tony Blair spent the day away from the noisy demonstration at his Buckinghamshire residence of Chequers. Mr Michael dismissed as a lie claims by organisers that he had been invited and he claimed the march had been hijacked by the pro-hunting lobby.

He added: "Some of those marchers spoke as if they thought it was an attempt to intimidate Parliament ... I think it would be wrong to be intimidated. In politics I don't think it's right to be intimidated." His unyielding tone suggested the Government was preparing to risk the political backlash from rural areas and to put through a near-total ban on hunting.

MPs have twice voted, on free votes, for hunting to be outlawed, only to have the proposal blocked by the Lords. This time, the Government could use the Parliament Act, overriding the second chamber, to turn the proposal into law.

The senior Labour MP Gerald Kaufman said: "One quarter of a million people marching means 99.6 per cent of the British population are not marching. This is a small minority putting forward a section of interest which they have every right to do, but it is an interest which reflects the needs and wishes of a tiny proportion of the people in this country."

One of the last banners read: "Mr Blair, see what a minority looks like." This was a pretty good joke when 200,000 were expected, but became better still when more than double that figure turned up.

Downing Street refused to comment yesterday on claims in Sunday newspapers that the Prince of Wales had relayed rural concerns directly in a letter to Mr Blair.

The Prince was reported to have complained that the Prime Minister would not have dared to attack an ethnic minority in the way that supporters of hunting were being persecuted.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, was among several members of the Shadow Cabinet who attended the protest. He said: "It is wrong, with all the problems that exist in the countryside at the moment ... that the Government should be giving government time to a Bill which will ultimately only make criminals out of a large section of the British public."

He also promised that a future Conservative government would allow parliamentary time for a new free vote to repeal any ban on hunting.

Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Hunting is the trigger for this march, but I would imagine that everybody on the march wants the Government to deal with a wide range of problems in the countryside. The point is that the people don't want to talk about hunting, they want to talk about all the other issues that are affecting them.

"A lot of what the Government is proposing to do on hunting is in fact based on class bigotry which, very sadly, still resides in parts of the Labour Party."

The former Labour minister Kate Hoey added: "Tony Blair needs to show leadership on this whole issue. If hunting is banned, then shooting and fishing will follow. The Government was elected to create unity in this country and not to create division."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, speaking from Brighton where his party was gathering for its annual conference, said that the issue of hunting was one in which there were different opinions in all political parties. But he added: "The Government is not listening nearly enough to people's views and we will continue to press them."

Mr Kennedy also said that the Government was not dealing with declines in agriculture, rural tourism and public transport, or with the closure of post

No hurry

If reporters tried to trivialise the hunting supporters as an upper class minority, they would have done well to talk to Mike Idle and Ewan Gaskell, keen members of the Ullswater fell pack, whose Cumbrian accents were so thick they warned "you might need an interpreter to interview us".

Both had been to London only twice before, to attend the previous countryside marches, and they were in no hurry to come back.

They said they were incensed that the media always suggested hunting was for rich people on horseback. "There are no toffs in our hunt," said Mr Gaskell, a van driver, rather giving the impression that they would not be welcome there.

"And I'll tell you now, we're not going to stop because of what Blair says. How are they going to stop it? They don't police the towns in Cumbria, so how will they police the hunts?" There was a definite edge of defiance on the streets.

From a different perspective, Richard Fry, who owns a business in London and a farm in Dorset, had brought his family, along with another 1,000 or so supporters of the Cattistock Hunt.

"Make no mistake," he said, "this one is the last peaceful march I'm coming on. If they press on with a ban now, the gloves will really come off."

A face in crowd - the Kennel Club colours were flown by Mr Alan Rountree,
chairman of the KC Field Trials Committee