Letter writing campaigns

Letters to the Editor

Here are some ideas about letter writing from our founder, Mike Huskisson:-

When I started working for the League Against Cruel Sports back in 1981 the importance of the local letters pages as a guide of local opinion for politicians was stressed to me and I believe it to hold as true now as it did then.

It is easiest to get your letter published when you are writing to your own local paper but you can also write to papers outside your area. Of course there are problems writing letters from outside the circulation area of the paper concerned. Firstly, as you are not even a reader of the paper why should the editor publish your views? Secondly, when your letter is sent to many papers the editor knows that your letter is in some way devalued because it is a mere copy of many letters sent to every paper; so he is not publishing a unique insight into local life. For all that campaigning letters sent to many papers can be published.

Local paper editors, if fair, might print in proportion to the numbers of letters received. So if they get 50 against hunting and 25 for they might print 2 against and 1 for. This is why we urge people to write; even if your letters are not published they will almost certainly help others from our side to be printed. Of course there are some pro-hunt papers that just never publish letters from our side but it is still worth writing to them. If you don't they an excuse their bias by saying that they never receive anti-hunt letters anyway and perhaps more importantly it might do them good to read the truth about bloodsports!

Letter-writing is a highly effective form of "armchair campaigning" that needs to be conducted with a changing focus, rhythm and a climactic end. The theme throughout must be to hit the abusers hard but avoid libel at all costs. Sensible papers would never print a potentially libellous letter anyway but there have been problems in the past - and legal arguments are very expensive. As a general rule don't write anything that you cannot prove and don't name people, organisations or hunts. General terms such as "hunter", "bloodsports enthusiasts", or "hunting fraternity" will be fine. You also need to consider the timings of letters. Local papers can be published daily or weekly and most weekly papers will need your letter on their desk in good time. Letters also need to be concise; aim for no more than 200 words. A good technique is to write a draft, then knock out words and phrases that are superfluous. Most literature benefits from being tightly edited.

Because my own letters are written as a campaign I avoid getting involved in debates with hunters on the letters pages. It is hard to "win" with them because they have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of myths, distortions and half-truths! Far better than getting embroiled in a crossfire of letters is to just lead off with attack after attack and let them flounder with their "answers". It was an astonishing fact of this election campaign that the hunters were largely silent on the letters pages. It was as if they were told that hunting was to be a "non-issue" and they were to keep quiet. That left the field open for us!

My letters were all sent from the AWIS, that is the education and information side of our campaigning work. That of course had our PO Box address for publication but I also added our home address and phone number along with the request that our home address be withheld from publication.

My letter about Afghanistan was obviously sent privately and I could hardly expect my home address to be withheld, but where it was published the editors contacted me and we agreed to run it as "M.J. Huskisson, Halesworth". I include this information because you need to think about having your full address put to an anti-hunting letter; it may be useful if you are seeking local support but it can generate some vile and vindictive responses from hunt fanatics.

My letters below were sent out as part of our campaigning work for the 2010 General Election in the UK. Each letter was sent to some 240 local and 15 national newspapers. This is not the full complement of local papers but we could only e-mail letters where we had a direct e-mail address for the editor. Some papers expect letters from readers to be submitted via their web site and that is a much more difficult and protracted business and to be honest we just lacked the time to do so. My first letter was circulated on Sunday April 11th 2010. It was designed to remind voters that repeal of the Hunting Act would bring back hare coursing, a pastime so brutal that even Margaret Thatcher had voted to ban it!

Dear Sir,

Hare coursing was a barbaric pastime that was a curse on our countryside until banned by the Labour Government. The inherent cruelty of coursing hares is opposed by the vast majority, indeed no less a Conservative than Margaret Thatcher voted for its abolition prior to the 1970 election. The humane alternative of lure coursing thrives yet David Cameron has pledged that should his "modern" Conservatives win power he will provide the opportunity in Parliament to make live hare coursing legal again. Can I ask your readers to think carefully before helping David Cameron to inflict this new style of callous Conservatism on our wildlife. Callousness towards harmless and helpless hares is symptomatic of similar attitudes towards other vulnerable elements within society.

Yours faithfully,

The second letter was sent just over a week later. By then the Conservative Manifesto had been published and I was able to quote from it the part relevant to the Hunting Act. I also attached an image of staghunting to remind voters (and newspaper editors!) just what repeal of the Hunting Act would mean for our wildlife.

Dear Sir,

When every vote counts it is astonishing that David Cameron flaunts his contempt for animal welfare. The Conservative Election Manifesto includes the following:

"The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. A Conservative government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time."

This will bring back foxhunting, hare hunting and hare coursing, staghunting, some form of summer riverside hunting and all the havoc associated with these cruel pastimes. Some hunters have too easily flouted and ignored the Hunting Act but surely that is reason to close the loopholes and better enforce the Act, not to repeal it and thereby reward the criminals?

This plan for a return to bloodsports is not in the environment or animal welfare sections of the manifesto; instead it is in the "civil liberties" part. So it is the hunters self-claimed "right to be cruel", in opposition to the wishes of the vast majority, that David Cameron appears to support.

As hunting can thrive without the pursuit of live quarry why return to the cruel old days? Seeking "change" is fine but change for the better is needed not a return to past savagery.

Yours faithfully,

My third letter e-mailed on April 22nd returned to the hare coursing theme and highlighted the fact that repeal of the Hunting Act would make illegal hare coursing all but impossible to control. This was to encourage landowners and farmers to think before giving their unqualified support to David Cameron.

Dear Sir,

Control of illegal hare coursing is important for farmers, landowners and the public. Before the Hunting Act it was hard to control because anyone seeing coursers had little idea whether it was legal (coursing with permission) or illegal (without permission). The Hunting Act banned all hare coursing and forced the switch to the humane alternative, lure coursing, which is easily recognisable and popular.

Since that ban anyone seeing hare coursing has confidently reported it. So the Hunting Act made it easy for public and police to work together to all but eradicate illegal hare coursing. Police officers across the country have recognized this.

Now this significant progress against rural lawbreaking is threatened. The public can expect that politicians seeking power would plan to make it easier for our police to do their job, not harder. David Cameron's misguided pledge, should he be elected, is to create the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act. However unwittingly, this will allow illegal hare coursing to be rampant again in our countryside.

This is "change" certainly but change for the worse for everyone bar the tiny minority of country sports enthusiasts who like coursing hares and have no regard for the law.

Yours faithfully,

For my next letter, sent on April 25th, I tried a shorter one, reacting to the televised debates:-

Dear Sir,

Seeing David Cameron on these televised debates and reading his manifesto it is clear why he felt at home amongst the infamous elitist Bullingdon Club whilst at Oxford University. There is plenty in his words and actions to terrify caring, compassionate people who seek to make our world better for all.

To take the UK forward we need a Prime Minister in whom all the usual strengths are tempered by humanity and with the insight to be inclusive rather than exclusive. David Cameron is flawed in all these areas and with his enthusiasm for bloodsports is clearly far better suited to being a Master of Hounds.

Yours faithfully,

In my fifth letter (April 26th) I returned to the hare coursing theme and once again I attached an image for the editor to consider for publication. This was a classic hare coursing photograph that I took at the Waterloo Cup many years ago. I also deployed a quote from the Lord Burns Hunting Inquiry to drive home the message of the cruelty inherent in repealing the Hunting Act.

Dear Sir,

David Cameron said recently "real change comes from your values". His include support for hare coursing in which pairs of greyhounds chased and sometimes killed hares. This is now banned but his Conservatives have pledged to pave the way for its return should they win.

The coursing ban was secured with support from MPs from all parties after exhaustive debate guided by the Burns Hunting Inquiry. This was set up not to decide whether hunting and hare coursing was cruel but rather to ascertain the facts to enable MPs to decide.

It shocked MPs to learn that hares were often pregnant or nursing when coursed. The Hunting Inquiry were thorough. Perhaps their most pitiful finding came from post mortems on twelve hares killed. Five of the eight dead females were pregnant. One described thus:This heavily pregnant female hare was in good condition. The large size of the foetuses and presence of milk in the mammary glands suggests she was close to giving birth.Yet this hare was selected to run and die for "sport".

Unsurprisingly, MPs, in tune with public opinion, voted overwhelmingly to ban this pastime. Legalising it is a change very few want.

Yours faithfully,

For my sixth letter, e-mailed on April 29th, I tried to strike a chord with the many who perceived that David Cameron might be a smooth PR operator but there could be something really nasty behind the glitz. I also explored the true horrific nature of staghunting.

Dear Sir,

Behind the glamorous façade of David Cameron lurks something unpleasant. His pledge to give government time to a bill to repeal the Hunting Act means the full horror of staghunting could soon be unleashed again on our countryside. For readers unfamiliar with the pastime, it involved the hunting to death of wild red deer with a pack of dogs.

Staghunting was a misnomer because hinds also were hunted, from November to the end of February. This meant that hinds were pregnant the whole time they were hunted. They were further handicapped in two ways. Being good mothers they tended to run with their previous years calf by their side. Finally, they lacked the antlers to fend off the dogs when eventually they stood exhausted.

The overwhelming majority view this "sport" as having no place in modern Britain. Many, including Conservative voters, pleaded with David Cameron not to support this savagery. He ignored them all, making repeal of the Hunting Act a priority for his party and a mainstay of his Manifesto. Treating his own supporters with contempt over such an issue doesn't bode well for how he will treat other compassionate causes should he win.

Yours faithfully,

In my next letter (May 1st) I tried to remind voters that the hunting that some Conservatives are so in love with, was actually imposed on the UK by foreign conquerors and from France of all places!!

Dear Sir,

UK voters prefer conciliation to strife. Hunting wildlife for recreation, with packs of hounds, was imposed here by French conquerors after 1066 and has always caused strife between pro and anti hunters. There has been violence and tragically even deaths. The Hunting Act 2004 offered hope that this conflict could be ended. Hunting was allowed much as before, but hounds were forced to hunt humane alternatives to live quarry.

Hounds could meet, supporters could dress up in finery and cross-country gallops could continue. Only the kill was absent. It seemed the perfect compromise. Not a ban on hounds, horses or hunting, but a ban on killing for fun. A ban founded in compassion not class. With cruelty removed increasing numbers have taken to hunting. But the compromise has proved fragile. In the privacy of the countryside hunters can do as they like and some have flouted the new law. Now politicians with wisdom and compassion are needed to advance the process. Amendments to the Hunting Act to help our police keep hunting legal are needed. This would benefit most who hunt and all country dwellers. Repealing the Act, as the Conservatives plan, would be a disaster.

Yours faithfully,

Note for Editor : My claim that hunting is a foreign import, imposed by French conquerors after 1066, is supported by the following quote from a “country sports” book: “It is an interesting thought that if Harold had won the battle of Hastings and no other Norman invasion had been successful, there would, most probably, be no hunting in the British Isles as we know it today. The Saxons and their kin did not use packs of hounds for hunting by scent; the hounds, the customs and the language of the chase came from France.” From Lurchers and Longdogs by E.G. Walsh. The Boydell Press. 1984. Page 47, 2nd paragraph.

Two days later, on May 3rd, I e-mailed a letter picking up on a TV profile of the leaders and weaving it in with the theme of "sleaze" that featured so prominently in this election.

Dear Sir,

A recent television profile of the party leaders revealed that Gordon Brown is a passionate football fan. As for David Cameron he plays tennis and runs. No mention of his passion for foxhunting and other bloodsports. The reason for this silence is obvious. Tormenting and killing foxes, deer and hares, just for fun, is seen by most as abhorrent.

Readers should know that of the three major leaders David Cameron is one whose chosen "sporting" activity, animal hunting, was criminalised by his fellow MPs, through the Hunting Act. He appears to have taken this reflection of overwhelming public opinion as a grievous personal slight. It has disturbed his judgement to the extent that he promotes repeal of the Hunting Act in the face of widespread opposition, even from many Conservatives.

Perhaps the prime criticism of the last Parliament was of "sleaze" whereby many MPs were perceived to put their self-interests first. If we are not careful we risk voting in a new Parliament where the man at the top, as part of his policy, puts his own personal self-interest ahead of the wishes of our nation. Change certainly, but for the worse.

Yours faithfully,

My final appeal to voters to think before electing a government addicted to bloodsports was e-mailed on May 4th. For daily papers, that still gave opportunity to have it published in time to have an effect.

Dear Sir,

Whilst it is clear that in this election many have a real desire to punish their politicians for perceived misdemeanours in the last Parliament voters need to be careful not to end up punishing only themselves. Often the culprit MP is not even standing on May 6th so why punish their successor or their party? Not voting because you were let down by one MP can open the door to politicians who will give you far more problems. If David Cameron wins we will have a government whose core and founding principle is a love for bloodsports.

May 6th will decide five more years of a Parliament. The troubles of the last Parliament will soon be forgotten and we really need to rise above the urge for some kind of vengeance over the past and look instead to create a positive future, a future fair for all.

Yours faithfully,

In amongst all these letters I also circulated a general but topical letter with a broad appeal to people to vote. This was particularly aimed at new voters. The calculation being that young people voting would be unlikely to support candidates committed to repealing the Hunting Act. It also allowed me to circulate a striking image that I took many years ago. This was sent on April 26th.

Dear Sir,

I hope you will allow me a brief appeal to readers to vote in the election. It is said that the televised debates have roused the UK electorate, particularly the young. Let's hope so. With our courageous youngsters out in Afghanistan risking their lives and sadly all too often dying for democracy there are more reasons than ever to vote.

I was in Afghanistan in 1980 before the days of the Taliban when the Mujahideen were supported by the West in their struggle against the Russian backed Afghan army. Before one attack I photographed a young Mujahideen fighter with the telling words on his cap: "Tomorrow awaits". He survived that attack but who knows what successive tomorrows brought him. He could be happily retired now or may be dead. Whatever, I am certain he would rather have had the opportunity to vote for his future than have to fight for it.

Yours faithfully,

[I am pleased to attach the photograph I refer to above. You are welcome to use this free of charge to illustrate my letter if you wish. The young man had worked in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul before the conflict, spoke good English and told me that he had acquired the cap from his hotel.]

My main reason for printing the letters above is to pass on ideas for your own letters, both to the media and to politicians. Many supporters took the themes of my letters, re-wrote them in their own style, mailed them to their local papers and saw them published. This is what our campaigning work should be about - working as a team to get the truth into the public domain.

Did my letter writing campaign have any effect? I hope so. I am told that several were published, in full or in part and at least one by a national paper. I also hear that two of my letters were published in a leading west country paper on the same day, the day before the election.