Ending the Privileged Pursuit

The chaos of the “traditional” Boxing Day hunts has ended, with the saboteurs doing all they could to disrupt them; yet we still saw foxes ripped apart by out-of-control packs of hounds. It's now time for the Labour Party to commit to ending the blood sport of the ruling class once and for all. By Simon Pearson.

 

Fox Hunting: Sport of the Rural Elite

The British Labour Party has long wrestled with the issue of fox hunting and the laws around this activity, which are long associated with aristocratic tradition and privilege. While passionate opponents have condemned hunting foxes with dogs as a cruel blood sport that should have no place in modern society, the pastime has its ardent defenders as well, who cast it as integral to rural heritage and the rural way of life.

The tensions came to a head in 2004, when a Labour government banned the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, reflecting concerns around animal welfare and cruelty. However, subsequent years exposed that the Hunting Act 2004 had more loopholes than substance. Hunts continue to operate through inventive circumventions, doing something they transparently label “trail hunting” but which looks strikingly similar to chasing and killing foxes.

For the Labour Party and progressive MPs, this situation poses a conundrum. Many represent rural constituencies where fox (trail) hunting retains cultural relevance and political power. And establishment media outlets like the Times, the Telegraph, and the ascendant GB News position themselves as voices of the countryside against the intrusions of “metropolitan elites” should policymakers further restrict hunting traditions.

Yet the heart of the matter was never truly heritage or rural livelihoods. Fox hunting has always reflected and reinforced class hierarchy, concentrating privilege, influence, and prestige among landed aristocrats and rural elites. It depends on the unspoken oppression of the working classes required to support these elites’ tastes and leisure time.

“Fox hunting has always reflected and reinforced class hierarchy, concentrating privilege, influence, and prestige among landed aristocrats and rural elites”.

The persistence of fox (trail) hunting thus today symbolises the stubborn endurance of Britain’s class system against modernising trends. And for a party founded to represent and uplift the nation’s working people, the Labour Party retains a compelling interest in challenging those antiquated class structures. The shrill defence of fox (trail) hunting from the Tories and their allies serves as clear evidence that the pastime’s abolition threatens entrenched reactionary power and privileges they hold dear.

As such, this article argues that the time has come for an incoming Labour government with a healthy majority to boldly champion legislation ending trail hunting outright, closing all loopholes that allow continuation under alternative names. Only through direct conflict with the class privileges at fox (trail) hunting’s very essence can progress be made towards a more just and equal British society in line with Labour’s purported socialist vision.

The party should dismiss accusations of assaulting “rural heritage” as little more than upper class propaganda. And it should have faith that the rural working classes have much to gain by overturning the traditions of aristocracy for alternative visions of countryside stewardship and development.

At its core, fox hunting has always represented the preservation of class dominance and unequal power structures in rural Britain. Wealthy aristocrats and hereditary landowners assume the expectation—and are granted exclusive rights—to gallop across the countryside chasing foxes for their personal sport and leisure. The working people of rural communities gain no benefit from this so-called “heritage” but rather are subjected to its disruption and expected to bend their lives around facilitating the pleasures of local elites.

Allowing the upper classes to maintain their historical self-indulgences at the expense of working people’s autonomy directly contradicts the goal of dismantling economic class distinctions. Legislation to unambiguously abolish fox (trail) hunting would strike a blow at the inequality preserved through lasting rural traditions of submission to aristocrats. It would mark a step towards redistributing power back into the hands of the commoners.

In addition, exemptions to allow so-called “trail hunting” have confirmed warnings that fox hunts have always been more pretext for cruelty than heritage. Hunt saboteurs frequently report packs of hounds still being allowed to tear foxes and other wildlife apart, and exemptions provide legal smokescreens for blood sport to continue unabated. Regardless of Marxist views on class divides or rural politics, a simple ethical commitment to avoiding unnecessary suffering to life should be enough to ban hunting outright on grounds of animal welfare.

“Hunt saboteurs frequently report packs of hounds still being allowed to tear foxes and other wildlife apart, and exemptions provide legal smokescreens for blood sport to continue unabated.”

Finally, the funds and political capital expended to defend fox hunting divert material benefits from rural working classes. Conservative estimates value the net expenditure of a typical hunt at around £100,000 – £300,000 annually—funds that could be redirected to local public services, affordable housing development, small business investment, education, and any number of programmes to uplift rural communities. And campaigns in defence of fox (trail) hunting only serve to empower local hereditary elites while distracting political discourse from positive change. Legislation to conclusively ban hunting would free resources and attention towards rural justice causes.

The Propaganda of Tradition

One can set a watch each year to the florid Boxing Day displays put on by apologists for fox (trail) hunting, desperate to portray the pastime as heritage rather than cruelty. The Telegraph front pages will reliably splash images of horseback riders in ceremonial red coats, while Times editorials eulogise hunting as the glue binding our rural social fabric. Such outlets even trot out reality-averse bien-pensants like Nigel Farage to wax nostalgic about village pubs filled on the happy holiday with cheering communities celebrating this supposedly glorious tradition.

Yet we should not allow this imagery to obscure the truth of rural class divides. At its heart, this fight has always been about the right of upper-class elites to persist with their blood sports unchanged, not about protecting villagers’ livelihoods or cultural identity (whatever the Countryside Alliance says).

There is no historical record of rural farmworkers riding at the head of major hunts—only of aristocrats and hereditary landowners. For working-class communities that rarely had time or money for such leisurely pursuits, traditions of subservience and deference to the gentry shaped village life more than any participatory heritage we should feel compelled to protect.

Thus, we should call out deceitful narratives about threats to rural heritage for what they are—propaganda for sustaining class interest crafted to manipulate public empathy. Media outlets like the Telegraph and Times have always firmly aligned themselves with countryside aristocrats against social change perceived to undermine the landed gentry’s dominance.

“Thus, we should call out deceitful narratives about threats to rural heritage for what they are—propaganda for sustaining class interest crafted to manipulate public empathy”.

It is the ancient rural hierarchy allowing elites to indulge in fox hunting for leisure they desperately wish to preserve, not the vitality of country towns. No evidence suggests bans on hunting tangibly threaten rural jobs or wellbeing, while much suggests the contrary.

Servitude to Cruelty

Furthermore, we must recognise that those employed directly in the operation of fox hunts represent little more than modern-day serfs sustaining the whims and leisure activities of the rural ruling class. Whether as stable hands, kennel workers, groundskeepers, or in other supporting roles, their labour exclusively enables aristocrats’ self-indulgent pursuits. They maintain the infrastructure of class oppression that denies fellow rural citizens voice or influence.

Just as feudalism trapped peasants in economic bondage to barons who controlled all land and resources, hunt servantry binds working classes to facilitate the sport and the pretended heritage of pageantry belonging only to the wealthy few. Banning fox (trail) hunting breaks this last vestige of the servant-master dynamic that has long stunted working-class power and dignity across the British countryside. Rather than defend the jobs of hunt servants, the working class should celebrate the coming emancipation from required submission to these last “lords of the manor” as a step towards autonomous rural communities governing their own livelihoods and traditions.

Therefore, a Labour government in waiting should remain undeterred by shrill allegations of an assault on country life, instead calling them out as bad-faith yelps by vested interests about to lose unjust privilege. True loyalty lies in uplifting rural workers, not defending the inheritance rights of historical oppressors. The time has come to achieve real justice for the countryside by ending fox hunting outright.

The time has come for a bold Labour Party to champion the rural working class rather than cower before powerful reactionary interests. No more equivocation, half-measures, or milquetoast compromises with class oppression thinly veiled as heritage. A new Labour government must demand and directly fight for legislation to eliminate fox (trail) hunting outright, closing every loophole that currently allows its continuation under alternative names like “trail hunting” or “exempt hunting.”

Authentic loyalty lies with the rural poor, denied access to land ownership and political representation for generations, not with hereditary peers outraged at the thought of losing inheritance rights and property access that never should have been theirs alone to enjoy. Boldness will reward Labour later, with rural communities uplifted and empowered to define their own destinies, free from the remnants of feudal hierarchy.

“Authentic loyalty lies with the rural poor, denied access to land ownership and political representation for generations, not with hereditary peers outraged at the thought of losing inheritance rights and property access that never should have been theirs alone to enjoy”.

The bills and amendments already exist to conclusively abolish fox hunting and eliminate its false distinction from “trail” hunting if only a new Labour government backs them. This cause awaits only the purpose and bravery to position it at the vanguard of progressive change for rural Britain. A hard battle remains before power and resources shift downward to rest with the countryside’s oppressed majority. Overturning fox (trail) hunting outright would signal the dawn of that new era.

End Fox Hunting for Rural Justice

Ultimately, the Labour Party faces a choice: to take the side of rural working classes or defend the privileges of a wealthy historic elite. Legislation to eliminate fox hunting outright offers a pivotal opportunity to champion the marginalised countryside. The party should dismiss accusations of assaulting “heritage” as little more than last gasps of ruling-class propaganda to ensure the landed gentry persists in outsized influence and privilege at the expense of rural justice. For too long, the rural poor have ceded their lands and sacrificed their needs to the whims of hereditary rulers. By boldly confronting the reactionary interests, an incoming Labour government can initiate the long-overdue uplifting of rural working communities.

“The party should dismiss accusations of assaulting “heritage” as little more than last gasps of ruling-class propaganda to ensure the landed gentry persists in outsized influence and privilege at the expense of rural justice”.


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Simon Pearson is on the Editorial Board of the Anti*Capitalist Resistance and is a Midlands-based political activist.


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