UKIP leader Nigel Farage has defended his decision to attend a Boxing Day Hunt in west Kent after it was described as a massive ‘own goal’ by one of his former party leaders.
Wearing a flat cap, green wax jacket and yellow trousers, Mr Farage was seen talking to members of the hunt and their supporters at Chiddingstone Castle, at what is one of the biggest events in the fox hunting calendar.
It was organised by the Old Surrey Burstow & West Kent Hunt which takes in hunts from Penshurst and Edenbridge.
But the appearance at the meeting of Mr Farage, who lives near Westerham, drew criticism from the former chairman of UKIP Tunbridge Wells, Alun Elder-Brown, who had resigned from the party before Christmas after claiming it had ‘lost direction’.
Mr Elder-Brown compared his former boss’s decision to attend the event as comparable to his ‘un-resignation’ following the general election – an episode he told the Times helped to contribute to his sense of disillusionment with the party.
He said: “Why does he have to be there? He seems to be forever scoring own goals. It is too much of a contentious issue, especially when he knows the media will be there.
“He is there in his Rupert Bear outfit and it is like the resignation, un-resignation, another own goal. He has made too many mistakes.”
The head of UKIP responded to his former colleague by claiming he was not there in a political capacity and had every right attend.
He also claimed no fox hunting actually took place at the event, as it was now banned by law.
Speaking exclusively to the Times, Mr Farage said: “There is no fox hunting any more. People ought to get a handle on it. It is just a nice day out after Christmas with people enjoying a beer tent and bacon sandwiches.
“I have been going to the meeting for donkey’s years in a private capacity.”
Responding directly to Mr Elder-Brown’s suggestion that the event was ‘too contentious’ for Mr Farage to be seen there, he said: “Perhaps I should give up smoking, never have another drink and always drive at 30 miles per hour? Will he be happy then?”
Mr Farage’s decision to attend comes at a time when fox hunting is back on the agenda, with supporters of hunting in the Conservative party pushing for a vote to repeal the ban which was introduced in 2005.
David Cameron had previously promised to hold a vote on the issue in both his 2010 and 2015 manifestos.
But opposition in Parliament has been strong, leading to David Cameron dropping plans for a vote earlier in the year after the SNP said it would join Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Tory rebels in voting it down.
A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance cited the strong turnout to the Boxing Day hunts as evidence that the hunting community still retains strong support.
He said: “At least a quarter of a million people lined the streets and market places on Boxing Day to watch the 300 plus registered hunts in the UK.
“The annual spectacle is an opportunity for hunts to thank all those who support them, from farmers to landowners over whose land they ride, to their subscribers and public, whose enthusiasm for hunting show no signs of waning.”
But some prominent members of the Conservative Party have voiced their support for retaining the ban.