Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:58 UK

Election 2010: hunting ban in south west Wales

Abigail Neil
BBC News

Generic picture of Narberth
Tourism is a growth industry in market towns like Narberth

Poised on horseback, the man raised his voice and addressed the crowd, "It's an extremely sad day, perhaps the worst of my life."

The red jacket and clipped speech made him instantly recognisable.

Hundreds who had gathered on a cold February morning knew him as James Andrews, Joint Master of the South Pembrokeshire Hunt.

"We've kept hounds at Cresselly since 1789 and we're not going to stop now," he said emotionally.

That was 2005 and another election, another lifetime ago.

Fast forward five years, and you might be forgiven for thinking that only a minority still felt that strongly.

Repeal hope

But the hunt continues to view the act of parliament which bans their way of life as a temporary measure. And they still breed a small number of puppies each year in the hope that it will be repealed.

Across Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire very few people you meet mention hunting any more. Except, that is, the Labour Party.

Featured on the website of Labour candidate Nick Ainger is material celebrating the anniversary of the hunting ban.

On the site, he is quoted as saying: "I was the government whip who took the Hunting Act through its House of Commons stages, and seeing it pass into law was one of my proudest achievements. We have achieved what we wanted, an end to cruel and unnecessary suffering being inflicted on animals in the name of sport."

He clearly still thinks it's an issue that could help him hold on to this seat, in what is after all, a highly marginal constituency.

So, enter a ministerial high-profile visit, in the form of Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn.

Surrounded by a handful of anti-hunt supporters, Mr Benn wasted no time in making his point about the Conservatives.

He said: "It's one of their pledges to bring back hunting by allowing a vote in the House of Commons, but they don't want to talk about it.

"The reason for that is they know it's not popular. They know the majority of people think this is animal cruelty pure and simple"

Billboards

Take a drive along the A40 road and it's not hard to see why Labour might be worried.

Neat, blue Conservative posters, some as large as billboards, line the route.

Conservative hopeful Simon Hart has spent the last two-and-a-half years getting to know voters in this constituency. And they know him. As the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, and a fervent hunt supporter.

Rural campaigner he may be, but he maintains that he is about more than that.

"Are you asking me if hunting takes preference over everything else?" Mr Hart seems surprised. "The answer for me, is categorically no."

"The number of people who have raised hunting as a deal-breaker in the election is probably about 20.

"Every third household talks about the health service, every second household talks about Afghanistan. Almost every household talks about the state of the economy. These are the important issues."

And voters in Narberth spoke to BBC Wales about what they feel are key concerns.

Voters discuss whether hunting is an electoral issue locally

Some of the other candidates standing locally see the heat generated over hunting as an unnecessary distraction.

"Issues around taxation and getting good quality jobs here, for most people they are the core issues," said John Gossage for the Liberal Democrats.

"I think it's a sign of desperation on Labour's part that they're trying to play up the hunting issue."

For Plaid Cymru's John Dixon it is the negative campaigning he objects to. "I think what we're trying to do in this election is present a positive message at all times," he said, "that there is an alternative available, we're not stuck with Labour and Tory."

"We don't all have to be the same. Politics can be different in Wales."

See a list of the candidates standing in the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituency



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