Oxford MP Nicola Blackwood has come under fire from student activists this week for her apparent support of legal fox hunting.
Blackwood, Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has signalled her support for a bill to legalise fox hunting, which was banned in 2004. She claims the original ban was “introduced undemocratically”, and she “fully supports a Repeal Bill with a free vote so that a proper debate can happen”.
A commitment to a fox hunting Repeal Bill is included in this year’s Conservative Party manifesto.
It also emerged in recent weeks that Blackwood has received campaign support from Vote-Ok, a countryside lobbying group that sends campaigners to parliamentary candidates sympathetic to their cause. Vote-Ok views the legalisation of fox hunting as one of its top priorities.
Student animal rights activists reacted with dismay to Blackwood’s stance. Adam Bridgen, President of the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society, described fox hunting as a “barbarous blood sport that the Labour Party did well to do away with”, and criticised Blackwood’s position as a “populist pre-election move, intended to appeal to the Conservatives’ traditional support base”.
Bridgen continued: “Nicola Blackwood is a prime example of the risk of fox hunting being used as a form of electoral leverage: not only does she vocally support the promised repeal, but she is receiving backing from pro-hunting lobby groups in [her constituency].”
Blackwood is currently fighting a hotly contested election race to regain her parliamentary seat, with Oxford West and Abingdon considered one of the closest constituencies in the country. She was elected in 2010 only 176 votes ahead of her Liberal Democrat rival.
Liberal Democrat candidate Layla Moran, Blackwood’s main opponent, also criticised the MP’s stance and voiced her own disapproval of fox hunting: “There is no appetite to bring back the sport of fox hunting in the public and the Tory obsession with repealing the Hunting Act is a waste of Parliamentary time. As the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon I would oppose any repeal.”
Blackwood has provoked student anger on previous occasions. In 2013, her vote against same-sex marriage was criticised in a letter written by 38 JCR Presidents, as well as then OUSU President Tom Rutland.
Bridgen went on to describe Blackwood’s stance on fox hunting as a “ridiculous proposal” that will “lose [Blackwood] as many conscientious voters as it gains them blood sport fans”.
Sally Copley, the Labour candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon, also implied criticism of Blackwood’s support from Vote-OK, telling The Oxford Mail: “The important thing is to take your lead from what consituents tell you rather than particular groups.”
A PPE student at Brasenose voiced his support of Blackwood’s stance, commenting: “Foxes are pests that cost the rural economy hundreds of thousands of pounds a year as well as causing untold disruption to the farming community.
“Agriculture already faces a myriad of threats and difficulties and it’s right and proper that the government does everything it can to support the community. Moreover, foxhunting is an integral rural tradition.”
Fox hunting was banned by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2004, though legal hunts are still held on Boxing Day every year in a number of areas.