With New Labour sweeping to power in 1997 with talk of a ‘third way’, the hunting lobby, fearing the worst, created the so-called Middle Way Group on Hunting. With secret funding from the Countryside Alliance, they aimed to influence pro-hunt ministers, like Jack Straw MP, into allowing hunting to under license. In reality nothing would have changed.
The Middle Way Group consisted of a very small group of Countryside Alliance officials and supporters:
Kate Hoey – Countryside Alliance Chairman.
Lembit Opik – Countryside Alliance parliamentary committee member.
Jim Barrington – Countryside Alliance ‘Animal Welfare Consultant’.
John Hobhouse (now deceased) – ex-chairman of the RSPCA during in the bad old days of fur wearing members.
Lord Soulsby – Bloodsport fanatic who attended just one out of eleven events organised by anti-hunt organisations during the Burns Inquiry into hunting with dogs. He offered his services for ‘free’ to the British Field Sports Society, where he tried to counter an academic study showing cruelty suffered by deer being hunted. Has attended meetings organised by the Countryside Alliance.
During a Granada Television debate (2nd November 2000), a member of the audience asked the Middle Way Group’s Lembit Öpik MP what his group’s policy was on hare coursing. Mr Öpik admitted they didn’t have a policy and had not even considered it.
Despite Kate Hoey being Chairman of the Countryside Alliance and Lembit Opik being a member of the parliamentary shooting interest group, they claimed that shooting foxes was crueller than fox hunting. However the group never called for a ban or restrictions on shooting.
The group only ever attracted the support of a few MPs and peers (such as the disgraced Lord Taylor of Blackburn), all of whom were pro-hunt. Once New Labour lost the 2010 election, the group, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.