Releasing The Hounds On A Wild Political Dogfight In The United Kingdom

Brandon Genalo

It is times like these that make me feel culturally inept in regards to our brethren across the pond. I don’t fully understand the workings of Parliament, I don’t understand protesting by making use of flour-filled condoms and I really don’t understand the thrill of hunting foxes with dogs. Nevertheless, these stories are being hotly contested in the United Kingdom, and, more than anything else, makes me wonder just how absurd we seem to them. On Wednesday, the British House of Commons voted, by more than a two to one margin, to officially abolish the practice of fox hunting with hounds in the U.K. This, by no means, was an insignificant matter, however, as a vehement debate played out in Parliament as well as the citizenry at large. The vote marked the ninth time in the past decade that the House of Commons had passed such a hunting ban, only to watch the aristocratic House of Lords prevent the enactment of the law each and every time. This series of events surely would have happened again, except the House of Commons evoked a seldom-used statute to circumvent the House of Lords’ sure opposition. They enacted the Parliament Act, which allows a bill to become a law when the two chambers are deadlocked over the issue. To top the whole ordeal off, five protestors to the ban stormed the House chamber, delaying the proceedings for 25 minutes, while other unruly demonstrations erupted outside.If this is all starting to sound like some Monty Python poppycock to you, I don’t blame you. There’s very little about it that makes sense to me either. And while our domestic political landscape is undoubtedly just as preposterous at times, I can’t help but garner a few laughs at the Britons’ expense. Between obscure Parliamentary acts, odd hunting rituals, rarely mentioned legislatures and disturbing security issues, it’s hard to know where to begin. And yes, I will return to the condoms. So I will begin with the issue at the heart of the ruckus: foxhunting. If an upscale man with a hat and mustache trudging through the moors of England with his bloodhound leading the way isn’t an indelible image of antiquated British stereotypes, I don’t know what is. But now, no more. It’s news to me that people still engage in this sporting activity in Britain and that there is such hostile opposition and support of it. As an American, I don’t know why one would want to hunt a fox with a dog; I thought that’s what guns (and now assault rifles) were for. So, maybe the United States really is a gun-obsessed culture, which is why we have so many gun-related homicides. Perhaps they are killing each other with hounds across the sea. Anyway, supporters of the ban view this form of hunting as cruel and barbaric – an elitist enterprise out of touch with the popular values of Britain. Opponents claim this is nothing but anti-hunting class warfare. (There is certainly another preposterous corollary here with a certain American issue, but I will not degrade it anymore by mentioning it again.) I, on the other hand, find the whole thing befuddling. Sure, it is rather barbaric, but I just can’t get worked up over abolishing it, much less get excited about doing it. This is really that important? And here I thought flag burning was an over-hyped national issue. Leave it to the old mother country to teach us a thing or two about misplaced priorities. Now, on to everybody’s favorite raucous, boozing, governing BBC treat: Parliament. I love this Parliament Act, which seems to me to be a law allowing Parliament to pass a bill even though it didn’t pass. Imagine this America: a bill passes the House and fails in the Senate, but Dennis Hastert tells Bill Frist it’s going to be law anyway. Obviously, the British Parliament does not work in the same way as the U.S. Congress, so this is a poor example, but it is perplexing to us Stateside nonetheless. Also, this is only the fourth time this law has been used, the others coming to bring Nazi war criminals to trial (1991), enacting the European Parliamentary Elections Act (1999) and lowering the age for homosexual consent to 16 (2000). Evidently, no issue is too large or too small in scope to weather the consequences of the almighty Parliament Act. So while this law seems like a cop-out of epic proportions to me, I must remember that we too have seemingly bizarre processes (i.e. the electoral college) to conduct our government. And, hey, Parliament can actually get things done this way, as opposed to having to jump through 18 hoops, like Congress. Plus, it’s always interesting when the House of Lords gets involved. I’m not sure what the House of Lords’ purpose is anymore, nor how the chamber works. But it’s there, even if it doesn’t often seem to be. Now, as I stated before, I am not an astute observer of British politics, but it doesn’t seem as if the House of Lords gets very much coverage nowadays. So, it’s comforting to know they’re still trying to be populists, advocating the rights of foxhunters. As for the condoms, they are part of the outlandish development of protest in the U.K. over the past several weeks. Most of them have been staged by Fathers 4 Justice, an organization fighting for greater rights for fathers in child custody cases. Four months ago, members showered Prime Minister Tony Blair with flour-packed condoms as he addressed the House of Commons. On Saturday, a member dressed as Spriderman scaled a Ferris wheel, shutting down the attraction for several hours. On Monday, another two men, these in Batman and Robin costumes, caused a commotion at Buckingham Palace when Batman perched himself on a ledge near the queen’s balcony, equipped with a sign promoting his cause. These incidents are indeed comical and non-threatening, but compound them with the melee in the House of Commons on Wednesday, and a disturbing trend begins to emerge. Americans would certainly not take light of protesters barging into the Capitol or parading on the White House, even if they were championing a good cause and presenting themselves in superhero garb. Security is an immensely important topic, even more so than foxhunting. Although I could be wrong, since foxhunting has seemed to cause quite a commotion lately in Great Britain. And the dispute is not over yet. After the public pressure, the resounding House of Commons vote, the surprise protest, the House of Lords opposition and the Parliament Act, the war is not over. Now, hunters are going to make their case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming the ban infringes on their rights. And if the law is upheld, they say they will simply ignore it and challenge the British government to enforce it. Just one more reason for Americans to chuckle at this wonderfully British development. But the next time we are having heated discussions over the rights of, say, smokers in public places, the Britons will probably glare across the pond and shake their heads at such poppycock.