Ben Wallace and the Right’s doomed push for the ‘countryside’ vote

Ben Wallace, the belligerent and unloveable Conservative MP for Wyre and Preston North, is all over the media today after yet another attack on sabs and monitors.

Writing in the increasingly hysterical Daily Telegraph, Wallace, Secretary of Defence until he resigned in August to ‘invest in the parts of life’ he claims to have neglected (which perhaps included a writing career supporting bloodsports), lays into the” sabs and self-appointed monitors” who he says will “trespass, threaten, and thump across the land”.

It’s a startlingly poor piece of writing which editors presumably weren’t given the chance to look at. If they had they might have anticipated that while the piece was supposed to highlight lawlessness in the UK – especially amongst activists – it would actually feed hundreds of social media posts which happily pick out sentences like “we should all be worried about the policing [of hunts]“, “wherever you find the hunts, you will find thuggery in tow”, and “the police stand by and regularly do nothing” and turn them against the very hunts the author appears to want to protect.


Charles Carter of RAH is told to return to kennels after chasing a fox
Charles Carter of the RAH is told to return to kennels after chasing a fox


Wallace has a history of protecting hunts from his time at the Ministry of Defence, of course. He previously refused to do anything about hunts like the notorious Royal Artillery (RAH) which is utterly dependent on access to MoD land like Salisbury Plain. In fact in December 2022 he terminated a long-standing Memorandum of Understanding with activists on the RAH’s behalf. ITV’s Rupert Evelyn quoted Wallace’s ‘reasons’ (which used the same wearily familiar terminology) and which again missed the point that his accusations include the very same things that sabs and monitors level at hunts: “The defence secretary cited ‘security concerns as well the behaviour of protesters and their attire which is intimidating to other users’.”

Why go on the attack now?

So Wallace, like many other members of the current government, supports hunting. He’d kept it hidden to an extent, but the gloves are now clearly off.

But why launch his attack now?

That is easily explained: the Conservatives have just been thumped in several by-elections, they are on course to heavily lose next year’s General Election, and – which is the main point here – they are desperately scrabbling around for what they consider to be the safe ‘countryside’ vote.

Wallace is not the only one looking to trigger the apparently aggrieved countryfolk who are supposedly looking for an MP who supports their fever dreams about sabs and monitors (and beavers, badgers, and birds of prey). Other Conservatives have dropped the pretence of caring about wildlife and the environment and launched a new rightwing pressure group which – in terms of wildlife legislation – wants to send the UK back to Victorian times.

Called Conservative Friends of the Countryside (CFC), its members include the same vociferous pro-hunt and pro-shooting MPs that have long spoken as one with the Countryside Alliance and BASC (the shooting lobbyists) and who in the last twelve months have derailed Parliamentary debates on snares and on shooting Woodcock (see “Through the looking glass with the shooting lobby”). Prominent loudmouth Sir Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire for example, wants the ban on foxhunting overturned, calling the Hunting Act “class war”. Another founder member is Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Old Etonian MP for the Cotswolds, who is an outspoken shooting campaigner with close ties to BASC and who in July was calling on Ministers to overturn the decision to withdraw General Licence 43 for shoots releasing pheasants on special protection areas. (SSSIs). Little wonder the Fieldsports Channel (a YouTube feed devoted to killing wildlife) dub Clifton-Brown “our unofficial minister for shooting”.

Also on the committee of CFC is George Bowyer, formerly of the Fitzwilliam Hunt and chair of Vote-OK, a lobby group which tries to get pro-hunting MPs elected, and Amanda Anderson, former PR and ‘public face’ of the Moorland Association, a group of grouse shoot owners who’s Director resigned just this week, days before being charged with the illegal burning of his own moorland.

CFC is calling for continuing the burning of peatland (of course); a halt in the release of beavers (remarkable eco-engineers that increase biodiversity wherever they live); continuing the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides (who wouldn’t want to wipe out pollinators when there’s a short-term profit to be made?); and stopping a ban on imports of hunting trophies from endangered animals (any apparent restriction on the rights of shooters is a line these people don’t want crossed).

Wallace and CFC aren’t the only die-hards on manoeuvres though. Just last month another ‘hardcore’ right-wing anti-wildlife pressure group tried to make its mark and flopped in front of an unimpressed public. Billing itself as “a new political party committed to forcing Westminster to respond to the needs of rural communities“, the wannabe politicos at Rural Reaction (or Rural Reactionaries as they will surely come to be known) say that “for rural voters their relationship with the Conservative Party is like a bad marriage“.

They are attempting to tap into the same supposedly populist vote that Wallace and CFC is apparently hoping to woo. But the stark reality for both the lumpen Wallace, the anachronistic CFC, and the soon-to-disappear Rural Reaction, though, is that a majority of voters EVERYWHERE want out of their dismal 13-year marriage to the enviornment-bashing Conservatives.


The fact is that these and issues like them are universal.

Pro-wildlife campaigners and activists might perhaps feel a tinge of anxiety that such naked aggression towards our wildlife and our environment is being shown by a handful of MPs, but it’s actually good news that the ‘alliance’ in the countryside is splintering into smaller and smaller radical fringe groups each trying to outdo the other as they vie to be the least wildlife-friendly bunch of loons in politics.

That’s because they are certain to fail as concerns for these issues are universal now. The differences that the likes of Wallace and the Conservative Friends of the Countryside aim to exploit no longer exist.

We all know now that when MPs like Wallace, Goodwill, and Clifton-Brown talk about ‘the rural way of life’ they are talking about landowners, gun owners, and the thugs that follow hunts to see an exhausted stag being shot at close range or a fox ripped up by a pack of hounds. A minority far out of step with with the rest of us.

Poll after poll proves that people (voters) living in urban areas are as equally concerned about plummeting biodiversity and climate change as the people living in the countryside. No matter where we live, we all know about animal sentience now. We all recognise weak excuses for cruelty when we hear them. We don’t want snares and traps whether we live in the city or down a single-track lane by a field. Most people may not know much about hunting, but wherever they live they love deer, foxes, hares and wild birds and are absolutely bloody sick of so-called ‘countryside’ groups blathering on about ‘traditions’ and the ‘rural way of life’ when what they are actually doing is breaking the law or making money from exploiting wildlife.



Hounds from the Holderness Hunt kill a fox. Image Hull Wildlife Protectors

The times they are a-changing

The plain fact is that over the last decade there has been a huge shift in attitudes towards wildlife and away from killing. Most of us want to protect wildlife and are proud to support the sabs and monitors getting in the way of lawbreakers who want to do harm.

Wallace may have drunk from the same dark well as pro-hunt types like Philip Wilkinson, Wiltshire’s PCC who last year famously described sabs as “balaclava-wearing thugs” and said he wouldn’t listen to “unbalanced hunt BS from the sabs and the other class warriors“, but he and his ilk are chasing a peripheral and diminishing electorate and are hopelessly out of touch with today’s realities.

Most of them will lose their seats at the next election anyway, but if MPs on the increasingly divided and deluded Right think that blustering about ‘rural communities’ and appealing to fox hunters will win more votes than committing to reversing biodiversity loss, vowing to do something about the warming climate, or for that matter fixing the broken economy, they are as stupid and misguided as they sound.

Which, thinking about it, is actually the case of course…