Fishing lines

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The Independent Online
A REVEALING tale reaches me this week about the consultation paper on angling, just issued by the Labour Party. The scurrilous yarn is probably completely untrue, but nevertheless it sheds an interesting light on political thinking regarding present thinking on sporting issues. It is also very amusing.

Because the new-look Labour has moved away from its cloth-cap image, the party did not have anyone who knew enough about all aspects of angling to compile the document, so it called upon the National Federation of Anglers.

The press officer of this august body duly detailed key issues affecting the sport. His wide-ranging document covered sea, game and coarse angling, along with other issues such as fish-eating birds, the close season and the National Rivers Authority. A left-handed spin doctor then turned these notes into a four-page report put out in the name of Tom Pendry, Shadow Minister for Sport. This was sent to governing bodies, the angling press and other interested parties.

It did not get the publicity Labour had been expecting. Some of the press mentioned that it had been published, but most did not write anything because the consultation paper did not say anything very new or very interesting. Or so it seemed to most of us. However, the seemingly innocent document really raised the hackles of one correspondent on a national newspaper noted for its non-Labour views. In an angling column he writes for a local newspaper, he really laid into it.

Politicians are used to being criticised, as events of the past week have shown rather well. But Pendry was furious, contacting the National Federation of Anglers and berating them for relaying such duff advice to him. Such behaviour is generally considered all part of the robust sport of politics, but in this case Pendry had some reason to feel slightly aggrieved, though he did not know it at the time. The correspondent who so heartily walloped Labour's good intentions doubles as . . . the press officer of the National Federation of Anglers. And so the report that he slated was actually made up from the issues that he himself had compiled.

Good, eh?

I met Tom Pendry for the first time last week. The occasion was the launch of the British Tourist Authority's annual report. I did not spend much time with the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, but I learnt a great deal in the short period in his company - and some of it was decidedly disquieting.

Pendry did not tell me the story I related earlier in this column. He does not look like a man who would tell that sort of story against himself. He is a big, bearded man, who probably got the sports ticket because he looks like a darts player, or perhaps a hammer thrower. Not a fisherman, though. He did not recognise my Salmon and Trout Association tie, even though he was due to meet the association's representatives that very evening.

It worried me, that. Although he was helpful and concerned, I could not stop this petty thought skipping through my brain: does he really want to get tough with polluters, sort out the close season, peg the soaring cost of licences, improve facilities for disabled anglers, do something about the plundering of inshore fish stocks, shoot all the cormorants and get loads more money for angling (especially from the National Lottery), as his consultation paper claims - or is it all just words on paper? Unworthy thought, I know. But those 4 million fishing votes must look awfully attractive when you are preparing your election strategy.

I feel very bad about such cynicism, especially as Pendry slipped me a scoop. I can reveal that the closing date for written replies on the consultation paper, originally scheduled for 4 November, has been extended to at least the middle of the month. Exciting stuff, huh?

Then, that wicked fairy started putting evil thoughts into my head again.

Perhaps this extension to the deadline was not really an altruistic move designed to allow more people to hone their suggestions. Maybe nobody had bothered to write in yet except those boring buggers who will reply to anything, even a Readers Digest subscription offer.

I'm sorry to be so mistrustful, but you hear such bad things about MPs, don't you? The least I can do is to publicise his consultation paper, and not to write anything nasty, just to prove that not all journalists believe it is a cynical piece of vote-grabbing.