FOX HUNTING could soon be officially recognised as an ‘icon of Englishness’ in a Government poll – much to the embarrassment of the Labour Government which tried to outlaw the sport.
The traditional bloodsport, which has been illegal for a year, since the introduction of the Hunting Act leads the way in an online public vote to find institutions to add to a collection of top cultural symbols.
Thanks to a campaign by pro-hunt groups, it currently has over 90% backing its case to join Stonehenge, the Spitfire and the humble cuppa on the list.
The tactical voting campaign puts hunting ahead of the countryside, the pub, Big Ben, Morris dancing, the bobby on the beat, cricket, the flag of St George, red telephone boxes and Tower Bridge.
Culture minister David Lammy launched the £1 million project earlier this month saying it was about "the things people care about that make England the place we all love".
Now he is faced with the real possibility that an activity he has consistently voted to outlaw in the Commons may just top the bill as the quintessential icon of Englishness.
An initial group of 12 icons that including Alice in Wonderland, Punch and Judy, the SS Empire Windrush, Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, the FA Cup, the Routemaster double-decker bus, the King James Bible, the Angel of the North and the hymn Jerusalem - was chosen by a panel of cultural experts.
The next dozen icons will be announced in April and quarterly thereafter, with the public asked to influence the choice by nominating icons and voting via the project's website at www.icons.org.uk.
The nomination’s entry on the website reads:
"Nothing divides the nation more than the subject of fox-hunting and it has become one of the central political issues of recent months. Viewed by supporters as a symbol of the English countryside and an integral part of rural life, anti-hunting groups say the blood sport is the exercise of power over vulnerable prey. Oscar Wilde’s famous description of the pastime was "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable". Nevertheless, hunting foxes with hounds has a long tradition in England - the earliest recorded attempts taking place in Norfolk in 1534. Today, there are many pubs with names such as ‘The Fox and Hounds’ that provide a further cultural echo.
Fox-hunting terminology has also made its way into day-to-day speech, with phrases like "Parliamentary whip" and "casting about" stemming from the sport. February 2005 saw fox-hunting with dogs curtailed in England as a result of years of campaigning by animal welfare groups. The Countryside Alliance have remained firmly opposed to the decision."
The Countryside Alliance, which has led campaigning against the ban, encouraged its members to vote on the website in a recent online newsletter.
A spokesman for the Alliance said there was no doubt fox hunting and its hunting pink clothing were "iconic" symbols of England both at home and especially abroad. It was also increasingly symbolic for rural populations of the Government's attitude and their resistance to it, he suggested.
It would be "rather strange" if the massive support did not mean it ended up in the next list of icons, he added.
As of Monday morning this week, voting for Fox Hunting as a true icon of Englishness stood at 91% Yes, 9% No
* To vote in the English Icons poll, log onto the website: www.icons.org.uk