THE GENERAL Election saw the Labour Government returned, pretty much as predicted by the opinion polls, but with a massively reduced majority of just 67, down from 161 at the 2001 election. The Opposition did well, with the Conservatives increased their share of the vote to 197 seats, whilst the Liberal Democrats had their best showing yet at 62 – all at the expense of sitting Labour MPs.
However, it was largely massive and unprecedented local campaigning by hunt supporters that contributed to the ousting of 29 anti-hunting former MP’s. Thanks to the Hunting Act, pro-hunt activists under the banner of the protest group Vote-OK waged a concerted campaign.
The opposition to the Hunting Act that became law in February had foolishly been dismissed as a serious election issue by many anti-hunting MPs prior to the election. But in the election campaign, Vote-OK volunteers saw to it that 3.4 million leaflets were delivered, 2.1 million envelopes hand-addressed 55,000 posters erected and 170,000 campaigning man-hours provided in the nationally co-ordinated initiative.
Charles Mann, Vote-OK national campaign director, said, "29 anti hunting MPs out, and 21 left with tiny majorities to get next time - this has been a huge success for hunting and an important boost for the volunteers who have participated in the campaign.
"With only six weeks’ preparation and no previous experience, thousands of hunt supporters have been organised to campaign on a substantial and hitherto unseen level in modern politics. As a result they have shown that when enough people get involved in politics with a purpose and in an organised and focused way they can, and have, made a difference."
Mark Pritchard, the new Conservative MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, was one of 130 candidates, most of them Tories, who received help from 20,000 countryside campaigners who poured into marginal seats all over Britain in an attempt to unseat anti-hunting Labour MPs
Mr Bradley, whose 3,587 majority was overturned, found himself at the front line of their efforts after he wrote in The Telegraph newspaper that the struggle over the legislation to ban hunting with hounds "was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war"
The former Parliamentary Private Secretary to Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, also advocated land reform, causing uproar in the constituency and leading one local Tory councillor to dub him "the Mugabe of the Midlands". Mr Pritchard took the seat on Thursday with a 5.4% swing.
Mr Pritchard commented: "The best recruiting sergeant for my campaign was Peter Bradley himself, for which I am very grateful. The pro-hunting campaigners certainly assisted me in terms of the number of foot soldiers I had on the ground.
"While Mr Bradley, a former public school boy, was obsessing about class and waging war on Shropshire's rural way of life, he failed to notice me, a comprehensive lad from Herefordshire, fighting on the issues that matter to people - such as saving local hospital services."
Patrick Webster the local Vote-OK co-ordinator added, "Bradley was living in the past talking about class warfare. Now we have an MP who is looking to the future and it is a great result."
Examples of seats where hunt campaigners made a significant difference include:
Hammersmith and Fulham - Vote-OK volunteers achieved a swing of 7.3% to secure the seat for Greg Hands. Emily Rittner, 30, said, "Even though I don't hunt I was so proud to be a part of the campaign. This shows what people from all sorts of different backgrounds can do when they get together, they really can make a difference."
Enfield Southgate - anti hunt campaigner and Labour Junior Education Minister Stephen Twigg, with a 13% majority, was ousted by a swing of 8.7% with great help from the hunts in the immediate outskirts of London who delivered 75,000 hand addressed envelopes. Richard Nash Vote-OK volunteer said, "I can't believe that we have made such a difference, at this rate we will have hunting back in 4 years!"
Twigg will always be remembered for beaming with incredulous pride at unseating Tory MP Michel Portillo during the 1997 Election. This time the boot was on the other foot with Twigg’s expression even more pained and upset than Portillo had at his dismissal by the local electorate.
Peterborough - Helen Clark ousted with a swing of 6.9%. The new MP, Stewart Jackson, in his speech from the platform, said "Hunt supporters, co-ordinated by Vote-OK, have made an incredible contribution to this victory. I have never seen activism on this scale and with this success".
Newbury - anti hunt former MP David Rendell's 4.8% majority overturned with a 5.5% swing, helped by Vote-OK with over 200 people delivering leaflets and helping get out the vote on the day. Colin Tett, hunt follower said, "Hunting people can and have made a difference because we are organised and committed."
Sittingbourne and Sheppey- 3509 majority reduced to only 79 (4.6% swing). Gordon Henderson the candidate supported by Vote-OK said, "There was so much help provided - we could not have got so close without it."
Charles Mann already had his sights set on the next election, whenever that would be – or potentially on any by-election, adding: "This has been the rehearsal. At the next election we will help ensure that this potent force is enabled to play an even greater role in securing an early repeal of the ban on hunting."