LEADING ARTCICLE : Blair and chums go foxy over fishing

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The Independent Online
Below, we print a confidential memo faxed accidentally to the Independent's office by Patrick Stickleback, special adviser to Tony Blair.

Dear Tony,

We've got a bit of a slippery problem with the party's policy on fishing, so I thought I should cast a fly over in your direction. As you know, we did our bit yesterday to hook the fishermen by announcing our "Anglers' Charter": "a rod on every bank, fresh maggots in every bait", that sort of stuff. As you would expect, it went down like a full hip-flask on a winter's day with the bobble hat and Thermos brigade. We could not have done better if we had offered them six pints of bitter and a barmaid to follow. It is amazing to realise just how many there are under the brolley: at this rate, we could net all 3 million of them. By the way, did you hear that Mullet Monthly just declared you Catch of the Year?

There is one hitch. The Tufton Buftons are already huffing and puffing about our plans for a free vote to ban fox-hunting. I know we are not much bothered about the squires: John Mortimer's the only huntsman on our side and nothing short of a ban on champagne would shake his loyalty. But you can bet old Paxman is being warmed up to ask how you can be the fox's friend and the fish's foe without taking a breath. Here are a few ways to put him off the scent.

First, remember there is a real difference between a fox and a fish. One is furry and lovable, the other is wet and horrible with no legs and rather revolting eyes. You are on safe ground here. The bunny-huggers really have no love for aquatic types. Who wants to cuddle an eel?

Second, you can eat fish, which is a good reason to catch them. Renard au vin is hardly appetising. Then there is always the argument about disruption. The great unwashed, tickling trout on a Sunday morning, are no trouble to anyone. Contrast that with a bunch of Hoorays laying waste the countryside and scaring poor defenceless creatures.

The main thing you have to avoid is the accusation that you are getting foxy with the masses. Some people may think you are ranging nobs against cloth caps, but if you are smart, you can keep the press at bay. "Tally ho!" as the Tories say.