I’ve been to more party political conferences than is healthy but, funnily enough, only those decked in Labour colours. Having retired as a Labour MP in 2010 in order to ‘spend more time with my fish’ I knew it wouldn’t be long before the Angling Trust asked me to go into former enemy territory and take our message to the Tory faithful.
As it happens, when it came to matters fishy, I always had a good relationship with politicians from across the parliamentary divide and served as the first chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group. The Angling Trust has, for many years teamed up with the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and put on rural reception at all three party conferences. Going to the Liberal Democrat gabfest was just too much to bear so I happily volunteered to sing for my supper at the Conservative and Labour gatherings.
And this year we decided to do something different and interview some of the leading politicians that matter most to angling for our forthcoming members magazine ‘The Angle’. For the Tories this meant our existing Fisheries Minister and my former neighbouring MP Richard Benyon and, interestingly, the new DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson.
Now Owen and myself used to be pretty much at opposite ends of the political spectrum on many issues but I’m delighted to report that I reckon this guy could be what we need at the moment.
He was at pains to point out what anglers and others have been saying for years that the countryside and its wildlife needs managing in order to achieve a proper balance and to secure the best environmental outcomes. He is clearly sceptical about some of the benefits claimed for small scale hydropower schemes that have caused such concern both coarse and game anglers. It became clear that he will not be frightened to take tough decisions in the interest of the countryside and as Shadow Secretary of State published some welcome policy papers extolling the virtues of managing our marine resources to improve recreational fishing. What’s more he seems to want to become that rare thing in politics – a minister who seeks to do in office what he said in opposition.
Now I haven’t gone all dewy eyed about the Tories and the Angling Trust will always be fiercely independent and apolitical but I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that the combination of Owen Paterson and Richard Benyon could be good for fishing and that’s all we can hope for from our politicians.