Apologies for the recent radio silence and I know I promised to write up the Himalayan mahseer trip as my next blog entry but I’m afraid things got overtaken by the backlog that greeted me on returning from the mountains. I then allowed myself to get dragged into the General Election campaign, firstly on behalf of the Angling Trust with our Manifesto for Angling that was sent to all political parties and then for myself as I tried, and failed, to help win back my former seat of Reading West for my colleagues in the red corner.
Thinking that the outcome of the General Election was on a knife edge I completed a thorough review of what the main political parties were offering to do for fish and fishing. I was pleased that Labour signed up to the Angling Trust manifesto and sent in this quote from Shadow Fisheries Minister Angela Smith:
“Labour is proud to have a strong tradition of support for Angling. We recognise not only the economic contribution that anglers makes but also the role they play up and down the country in working to improve our water and marine environment. The manifesto for angling contains some positive ideas for how the next Labour Government can both improve our natural environment and support Britain’s most popular sport. We worked constructively with the Angling Trust when Labour was last in Government and we look forward to doing so again.”
However, Labour’s own environmental policy was one of the weaker on offer and their own manifesto made almost no reference to fish or fishing. In any case it turned out that far from playing a part in government my former colleagues were consigned by the electorate to another five years in the political wilderness. And believe me I shared their pain, after all, many of these vanquished politicians are still personal friends of mine.
The Angling Trust maintains strong relationships on both sides of politics and we were happy to acknowledge the Conservatives record in government with new controls on cormorants and support for angling projects. They did agree, following a chance meeting between myself and the Prime Minister in the Commons cafe, to include a promise in their own manifesto to deliver ‘a sustainable bass fishery’. The Tories also committed to concluding important projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel to improve water quality.
The Conservatives’ most prominent angling MP and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group George Hollingbery was typically supportive and said:
“Angling is one of the biggest participant activities in the UK and important to the country at many different levels. The Angling Manifesto hits all the right notes: we know how beneficial angling can be to those that are involved and should encourage more people to pick up a rod; with so many people involved already, we know that a number of areas of government policy should always recognise this very large interest group; and we know that angling is a force for good when it comes to the environment and the health of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.”
As expected the LibDem and Green manifestos were strong on the need for greater environmental protection with commitments to reduce water abstractions through wider water metering and construction of new reservoirs. However, neither party had anything to say about angling and did not respond to the Angling Trust’s manifesto despite being chased on several occasions.
So whilst the Angling Trust did a good job in getting fish and fishing on the broader political agenda it is just one party with which we will have to deal in government. It looks as if marine fisheries will be remaining with George Eustice at DEFRA, despite his elevation to Minister of State, whilst the freshwater side is likely to come under the new Parliamentary Under Secretary Rory Stewart who was as surprised as anyone to have landed a job in government following his outspoken interventions on defence spending in the previous parliament.
Taking a tench break
Despite my years in politics I was as shocked as most people by the decisiveness of the Conservative election victory. I really couldn’t see any result other than a hung parliament and I was hopeful that my team would make at least some modest advances. I was up all night at my local election count trying to support the defeated candidates and to put a brave face on what was a disastrous night for Labour. Clearly I was going to need some recovery time and as luck would have it I had booked a few days off with some fishing mates in an attempt to track down some of the large tench and carp that live in the Cotswold Waterpark.
I rarely fish for carp but I was hopeful that tench would be my ‘doctor fish’ and give me something to get over the disappointment of the previous week. I couldn’t have had a better start as on the first evening I had a chunky 9.04 which I caught on rubber casters. Several more tench between five and seven and a half pounds followed and other friends weighed in with some lovely carp and a surprise perch of 3.12 to Andy Cowley on a lobworm. We pulled off on the Thursday as the heavy rain closed in but it was a welcome break that put some nice fish on the bank and some necessary time and space between two very different experiences. It seems that a week can be a long time in both politics and fishing!