There was an interesting article in The Economist this week on what they called the “Hobby Lobby”, and the power that hobby enthusiasts exert, quietly…….at least, most of the time.
The article focuses on the mainly British pastime/hobby of grouse shooting, but it applies equally well to a whole range of hobbies in the U.K. In the U.S., the gun hobby lobby is the most obvious example of the same thing.
Sir Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, has often said he would have had far less trouble, if he had proposed solving the problem of pensioners by compulsory euthanasia for every fifth pensioner, than he did by banning fox hunting in the U.K. He reflected that people hunted foxes because they enjoyed it. When the government stopped them, they were furious.
There are many such examples of the power of the hobby lobby, which seems to be far more effective in changing, or stopping, government policy than any fear of voter reaction in elections.
London’s “ultra-low emissions zone”, which charges all vehicles £12.50 a day to enter the capital, triggered a major backlash in the City’s vehicle-dependent sector. Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, stuck with the policy for cleaner air, arguing the resulting controversy was a price worth paying for cleaner air. Classic cars, however, are exempt. White van drivers gripe about their diesel vehicles being hit with this charge while someone tootling around Richmond Park in his 60-year-old MG has no problem. A fight with hobbyists is not worth having.
Images of raw sewage being pumped into Britain’s waterways have hurt the Conservative government in the U.K. as much as a failing health service or rising taxes. Why? Because “wild-swimmers” have established themselves as one of Britain’s most potent hobby lobbies. The Outdoor Swimming Society, which does what its title says, had 300 members in 2006. It now boasts nearly 200,000. Believe it or not, England’s waters are in a better state today than they were in the 1990’s. In contrast to the 1990’s, however, a sewage spill today means a retired English teacher from Sussex cannot go for her weekly dip. Woe betide any government who denies her that.
Back to grouse shooting. About 7% of the British countryside is given over to the sport. In Scotland approximately 15% of the country is grouse moor. Bransdale, a 16,000 acre grouse-shooting estate on the North Yorkshire moors is home to red grouse, a fast plump bird that is hard to shoot, and that requires a landscape that has to be constantly manicured: Controlled burning creates a mixture of young and old heather, giving the bird something to eat and somewhere to live respectively. Potential predators such as stoats are removed by skilled, full-time, gamekeepers.
This is only one example of the many areas devoted to grouse shooting (7% of England and 15% of Scotland), a sport that is practiced by only about 12,500 people or so, countrywide. Of course, there are multiple people, and organizations, against shooting birds. The resulting double hobby-lobby of those against the sport, and those who are devotees, is so strong that the government avoids doing anything to even address the situation.
Politicians fear the hobby lobby – again, look at the gun hobby lobby in the U.S.
The most influential party in British politics over the past decade was the U.K. Independence Party, which was always more of a hobby than a project for political power. Even leaving the EU was a curious obsession for a few old men, who pulled every trick in the book to achieve their goal, and they got their wish in the end.
It is a testament to the power of small groups of dedicated lobbyists who are passionate about their hobbies. Governments appear to be no match for these amateur groups.
The Economist articles ends with the wistful sentence, “In British politics, the hobbyist will always have his/her way.”