The recent ban on fox hunting in England and Wales is an ugly example of British party politics in action.

For nearly twenty years, up until 1997, Britain was governed by the Conservative party. This period coincided with the worldwide decline of socialism, forcing the opposition Labour party to rebrand themselves as "New Labour" with "Third Way" policies. The satirical TV show Spitting Image described them as "the sort of Conservative government you've always wanted". This shift, together with a charismatic leader, gave New Labour a landslide victory in the 1997 General Election.

By pursuing conservative policies, New Labour has made it difficult for the Conservatives to differentiate themselves to the electorate without appearing extremist. To date (pre-election 2005), this strategy has proven highly effective.

Of course, New Labour is in danger of disillusioning its leftist supporters. The war in Iraq was particularly damaging. Such people might abandon the party for the Liberal Democrats or Greens, or simply not bother voting.

Enter the fox hunting issue. Animal-rights campaigners have been seeking a ban since 1949, but no Conservative government would consider it. For New Labour, however, it makes a great deal of sense. Very few voters are directly affected, and most of those are rural Conservative-voting types anyway. Fox hunting, like any sport involving horses, is perceived as being very upper-class. A ban can therefore be used to win the support of urban animal-lovers and lefty class warriors.

The main motivation for the ban seems to be the traditional English Puritan distaste for other people enjoying themselves. It is most honest to see the ban as sending a message that "killing animals should always be work, not sport", and that "upper-class people should try to be more like the rest of us."

In common with many "Third Way" policies, the ban might not make too much difference in the real world. After the ban came into force, hunters were out again with their horses and dogs, hunting and killing foxes. It is not illegal, for example, to flush out the fox with dogs, then shoot it. The police don't have the resources to follow hunts, although the presence of anti-hunt campaigners armed with video cameras may have some effect.

fondue says You're a fucking idiot. Cheers

Thousands join hunts despite ban
Research by the BBC News website in September showed that not a single registered hunt had disbanded since the legislation was passed.