Page last updated at 05:11 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Anger over hunting ban evident at five-year anniversary

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent, BBC News, Wiltshire

A huntsman with the Avon Vale hunt near Trowbridge
Hunting supporters maintain it is part of their way of life

It is 11 in the morning in the Wiltshire village of Little Somerford, and the casual observer would never guess fox hunting had been banned.

Men in scarlet and women in black sit on horses sipping mulled wine and whiskey. Excited hounds gather close to the huntsman.

He blows a horn and the Vale of the White Horse hunt sets off.

It will follow a scent laid earlier - not a fox. And that angers many of those taking part. For them this is an important election issue.

"It's very much bound up with our identity and how we want to be represented by our MP," says hunt follower Sophie Scruton.

"We certainly want him to work very hard for the health service and for our schools but we also want him or her to be sympathetic to a whole way of life that's based on the land and farming."

The joint master of the hunt, Martin Wood, warns: "We're quite a force, I think, and we'd make a big difference in a marginal constituency."

Election issue?

The five year-old hunting ban will feature in the election campaign.

Since December, Labour has been working to highlight the Conservative promise of a free vote on its future - setting up a website encouraging people to support the ban.

Nick Ainger, who helped introduce it as a Labour whip, accuses the Conservatives of planning to restore cruelty in the name of sport. But the Conservative rural affairs spokesman James Paice says this is bad law which has not proved to be humane.

It is a high profile argument - but could it really be an influential one in the election? One leading pollster doubts it.

There's so many more important issues than fox hunting
Huntsman Philip Hague

"The general election is going to be fought in terms of the issues around competence to manage the economy, crime, immigration and public services," says Ben Page, from Ipsos Mori.

"Hunting, in terms of people casting their votes, is really only an issue for a minority of the population."

Back in the Wiltshire countryside there are those who agree with him. The huntsman Philip Hague - an employee of the hunt, not a follower - admits that while he cares deeply about this issue, many will not.

"There's only people who are hunting minded that will vote because of the hunting situation," he says.

"There's so many more important issues than fox hunting. The things that are going on in the world, there's a lot more serious than what we're doing here today."

This issue will affect some voters but however passionately competing politicians and campaign groups care about it, it is unlikely to sway the fate of many seats.

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