by Bo Ferdinand
One of Daniel Hannan’s first controversial appearances involved advocating the privatisation of the NHS on Fox News and begging Americans ‘not to follow us down the road of socialism’. Described as a true believer and ‘the man who brought you Brexit’, Hannan helped found both the ERG and Vote Leave, famously insisting that voting leave would not mean leaving the single market. He is an adviser to the government’s ‘Board of Trade’ and runs a think tank called the ‘Initiative for Free Trade’ which campaigns, among other things, against action on climate change. Today, he has a life peerage and is frequently in the news for various right-wing pronouncements, whether it is warning of a plot to overturn Brexit, promoting Liz Truss’s dubious economic prescriptions or sneering about sermons on the treatment of refugees at Christmas. But beneath his supercilious facade lies something much darker.
An April 2022 article in the Evening Standard revealed Hannan was writing a column in the right-wing magazine ‘The Critic’ under the pseudonym ‘Christopher North’ in which he sings the praises of bullfighting, in a style remarkably similar to previous articles he had written elsewhere on ‘toreo’. Interestingly, Hannan has not declared this column, which has run since the beginning of 2020, with the last entry being November 2022, in his register of parliamentary interests, perhaps due to Tory concerns about animal rights. Hannan’s writing on this subject reveals a deeply troubling mindset, leaving aside whether it is appropriate for a politician to use pseudonyms to glorify an activity banned in the UK for its cruelty. There is also evidence he may have even directly harmed animals himself.
Prior to 2020, Hannan frequently praised the corrida, in the Telegraph and elsewhere. In a 2006 piece, Hannan claims the objection to seeing animals die and tortured horribly in public is because of an English mistranslation for ‘corrida’. The word ‘bullfight’ supposedly gives the impression of an equal contest, as opposed to a ‘work of art’, inevitably ending in the bull’s death. Indeed, he terms it ‘blood and beauty’. This explanation may surprise the millions of Spanish-speaking people who oppose such events, including the Mexican court which just closed the world’s largest bullring, and the Colombian president who recently announced his intention to ban it.
Hannan is a supporter of ‘Club Taurino of London’, an association for UK aficionados, following and interacting with them on Twitter.
CAS International and the pic of the mural with the little boy and the bull is from Peru Antitaurino
As Paul Hurt points out on his extensive page on the topic, Hannan has also written for the association’s magazine, La Divisa. A divisa is the rosette which shows which farm, or ganaderia, a bull has come from. The divisa used in corridas has an 8cm metal dart underneath. Just before a bull is released into the ring, or in some cases the street, the rosette and dart are stuck into its back, causing bleeding, muscle damage and terrible pain. His November 2022 article for The Critic, ‘From Lima With Love’, appears in La Divisa’s Issue 269, with the author listed as ‘Kit North’. Here, ‘North’ describes making a round trip of 13,000 miles to watch a matador who had ‘triumphed’ in ‘the corrida of 2022’. Earlier articles appear under Hannan’s own name.
Two of these, ‘France is the New Spain’ and ‘Three Days in Malaga’ are available through the Internet Archive. They make strange, deeply upsetting reading.
A dart from a divisa, which the magazine is named after (credit: AVATMA).
In these pieces, Hannan writes using artistic sounding euphemisms for bulls’ excruciating deaths such as ‘estocade’ (thrusting a sword into the bull) ‘pinchazo’ (the sword hitting bone) and ‘descabello’ (stabbing the bull in the back of the neck if it’s still alive). Sometimes the fights don’t go so well, so we also read that, ‘The bull took two pics, the second of which went in repeatedly and way off to one side. After the banderillas, as the bull stood spurting fountains of blood, Meca dedicated it to a famous actor in the crowd (wild applause). Before setting to work, just to be safe, he pulled the animal back and forth a good deal more. […] Meca was both glitzy and timid, all the way up to a miserable excuse for a sword-thrust into the bull’s flank.’
In ‘Three Days in Malaga’, Hannan writes of one corrida in 2008 where, ‘These bulls, by San Miguel, were among the worst I’ve watched: cowardly, weak, lazy and petulant. Their lack of breeding was evident from the moment they sauntered out of the toril, trembling, fidgeting, lowering.’ In a sentence worthy of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, he even says of a particularly placid creature, ‘I half expected that bull, the fourth, to sit down and sniff flowers’. Needless to say, all these bulls were horribly killed.
Sitting comfortably at home, rather than trapped for hours in a small box too small to turn around in, injuring himself trying to jump into the stands or vomiting blood in front of ecstatic spectators, Hannan whinges about the terrified cattle he deems less brave than himself. Later in the same piece, he complains about another bull ‘becoming cowardly in the tercio de varas’ (where the picador encourages the bull to charge at his horse and then spears it in the neck so it lowers its head), so when the time came to kill it, ‘there was nothing left’. But it worked out OK in the end; with another bull, ‘Castella stomped over to get the heavy sword with a face like thunder, and his thrust was better this time, if still a tad low’.
Yes, a spoilt, privileged Tory preoccupied with ‘plots to overturn Brexit’ clearly knows more about bravery than the terrified, tormented animals La Divisa’s readers enjoy watching being massacred. Speaking of bravery, writing about the 1936 children’s book Ferdinand the Bull, Hannan says that until his eldest daughter was five, he ‘managed to keep that wretched book out of the house’ for its plot of a gentle, non confrontational bull who enrages, or possibly triggers the matador so much he throws screaming tantrums until the beast is allowed back to his field.
In an Orwellian piece of cognitive dissonance, it is the bulls themselves who Hannan describes as ‘cruel’. Hannan, like many right wingers, is fond of quoting 1984 in his harangues about the left, but is perhaps less keen on noting George Orwell’s observation in Homage to Catalonia that, ‘even in Barcelona ‘there were hardly any bullfights nowadays; for some reason all the best matadors were Fascists.’
There is a lot of truth to this; the most prominent supporters of bullfighting in Spain are far-right parties like Vox. The racism and misogyny of the ‘mundo de los toros’ was on full display in 2021 when a bullfighting event in Gijon was cancelled after two bulls were killed, named ‘Feminist’ and ‘Nigerian’. Following a lengthy ban, the return of the corrida to Mallorca in 2019 was accompanied by a banned Franco-era fascist anthem blasted over the speakers. Hannan himself describes the Peruvian dictator Fujimori, responsible for the sterilisation of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous women, as a ‘corrupt but effective autocrat’.
Hannan describes bulls desperately trying to escape, crashing into things, hurting themselves and limping, barely able to stay on their feet:
Maybe it isn’t that shocking to see his cold indifference to such suffering; his ‘passion’ for bullfighting has been on record for years. However, to see it laid out is chilling. Nowhere in these pieces is any concern or empathy whatsoever expressed for the welfare of the bulls in the many corridas he watches, except if it spoiled the ‘artistic’ nature of the ‘liquid sculpture on the sand’ and the matadors’ ‘electrifying’, ‘frenetic’ performances. The nearest he gets is claiming the deaths of matadors themselves might make bullfighting more popular.
Indeed, ‘Christopher North’ even laments a growing tendency of ‘indultitis’ (meaning bulls which have put up a ‘good’ performance being ‘pardoned’ rather than killed in the finale). Perhaps Hannan is right here, and the poor beast should simply be put out of its misery; many ‘pardoned’ bulls die shortly afterwards, or spend months in agony before succumbing. The association of anti-bullfighting vets in Spain reported a ‘pardoned’ bull which ended up with a 12cm deep wound due to the divisa, 6 10cm wounds from the banderillas, and two wounds from the picador’s lance of 22 and 35 cm. This, and the stress and fear the animal experienced, led to its temperature increasing to 43 degrees from an average of 38, and losing 20 kilos while travelling back to the farm.
Can this really be described, as ‘Christopher North’ does, as Spain’s highest art form? Is this not rather insulting to the country he claims to love? Clearly, us lesser mortals are too soft, uncultured and out of touch with Death to appreciate such delights. Revealingly, in an article titled ‘A little world of death’, and later an article about hunting under his own name for the Washington Examiner, the great art and culture critic quotes Thomas Macaulay as saying, ‘The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.’
Is bear-baiting another ‘electrifying spectacle’ we can look forward to outside the EU? How would that go down in the Red Wall?
Interestingly, in ‘France is the new Spain’, Hannan describes attending bullfighting events with other Tories, including grandson of Tory MPs and racehorse trainer Sir Mark Prescott, who pled guilty to illegal hare coursing in 2009, receiving an absolute discharge – a criminal record, but no fine or time inside. This respectable upper class gent has been watching corridas since the 1960s and ‘bubbles with the enthusiasm of the connoisseur.’
Then there’s Nick Herbert, currently the government’s envoy for LGBT rights, Chair of the College of Policing and formerly policing minister under David Cameron, a somewhat dubious appointment. Like bear-baiting, the public torture of bulls has been banned in the UK since the Cruelty to Animals Act. This outrageous example of woke millennial cancel culture was signed into law in 1835 by Queen Victoria’s uncle William IV. Herbert is also ‘Master’ of the Newmarket and Trinity Foot Beagles fox hunts, and hunting with the Essex Foxhounds – an activity which is also illegal in the UK, and was so at the time of his tenure as policing minister. Herbert is Chair of the Countryside Alliance, and received over £24000 from pro-hunt lobbyists in 2009 while the Tories were still in opposition. Hannan describes Herbert as, ‘planet-brained director of a think-tank called Reform, has been going to Béziers for 15 years. He believes it has everything: good bulls, good toreros, a good crowd. And he likes the compact nature of the festival: how often can you squeeze six bullfights into a long weekend?’
AKA, ‘how often can you watch 36 bulls tortured and killed in a long weekend, in between knocking back expensive wine, smoking disgusting cigars and cosplaying Ernest Hemingway?’ Quite frequently, it turns out!
But don’t imagine Hannan is simply happy to sit and watch, rather than getting stuck in himself. In 2004, he took part in a week-long event called a ‘tienta’ on a farm in Spain in order to ‘deepen his understanding of the fiesta’, which he wrote about in an article in the Telegraph entitled ‘When the Tory met the toro’. This was arranged through Coleman Cooney’s bullfighting school in California, which allows its students to pay extra for the chance to kill a bull themselves. Hannan describes how young cows of around 1 or 2 years old – eight in this case – are ‘tested’ and encouraged to charge to see if they are good enough for breeding fighting bulls in the ring. He discusses holding a cape to wave at the cow, narrowly escaping being trampled.
Hannan writes of the first animal ‘lucky’ enough to be given the chance to face him, ‘It seems preposterous to describe her as a cow: she had been bred to charge over hundreds of years, and resembled a domesticated cow only in the sense that a she-wolf resembles a labrador bitch. I don’t say this in order to try to build her up: she was too small to do much damage.’
What he leaves out of this account is that these cows and calves are often injured in such ‘tests’, being speared by someone on horseback in the same way as the bulls are. If the cows fail the ‘test’, they are sent to the slaughterhouse. Without painkillers or antibiotics, their injuries mean their meat is often unfit to eat; according to anti-bullfighting charity CAS International, several vets have documented cows with large, infected wounds afterwards. One cow rescued from the bullfighting industry and taken to a sanctuary had half its teeth knocked out, recovering and regaining trust in people thanks to sanctuary workers and their patience and love.
It is unclear what happened to the eight ‘vacas bravas’ described here; whether Hannan participated in a sanitised version of a tienta, or if he has omitted this detail deliberately. After all, he has complained snootily on many occasions about being castigated by ‘animal lovers who are really people loathers’, ‘vegans and little old ladies’. (Whatever your dietary choices, you cannot win – when he’s not ridiculing vegans, he attacks opponents of the corrida for ‘chomping on burgers’.) Alternatively, he could have made it up, as allegedly happened with his photos of ‘English country walks’ which were stock images of the US and Wales.
Which brings us to Brexit. EU subsidies towards the bullfighting industry were cited as a reason to vote leave, and the BBC was forced to run a fact check on the subject. An investigation by Channel 4 showed Vote Leave also pushed anti-Spanish messages to potential voters, claiming leaving the EU would stop UK money going to Spain and help to end bullfighting. They even argued the EU was stopping Britain improving our animal welfare standards. The Spectator, which Hannan is a frequent contributor to, ran an article saying those voting Remain had ‘the blood of Spanish bulls on their hands’. Daniel Hannan was, of course, one of the founders of Vote Leave, and has made frequent pro-Brexit statements in the media ever since. When not watching bulls get slowly stabbed to death, Hannan has happily helped his fellow Conservatives do the same to the UK economy, whinging that if Liz Truss backed down on her budget it would be ‘an admission that meaningful reform can never be undertaken’.
Campaigners against the corrida in Spain, France, Portugal and South America deserve our solidarity and support. The bullfighting industry has been linked to organised crime and domestic violence. There are numerous accounts of abuses taking place inside bullfighting schools where children learn to torture and kill very young animals. It is thoroughly disturbing that someone in a position of power and authority in government can not only take such pleasure in watching harm to an animal, but devote inordinate amounts of time to promote the barbarism he sees as a work of art. A bull lying down to sniff flowers in a field and treated with kindness, rather than terrorised through pain and injury, is a ‘cowardly’ ‘mediocrity’ for not giving him the spectacle he thinks he deserves. In Daniel Hannan’s mind, compassion and love for animals, rather than heartbreaking cruelty, is a sign of a culture that has gone soft and should be laughed at and viewed with contempt.
Such sadism should have no place in society or a government claiming to care about animals. But the Tories give us daily examples of cruelty to humans. They have left our public services in the same state as one of Hannan’s ‘cowardly’ bulls.
La tortura no es arte ni cultura.
Get the Tories out.