Author Archives: Phil Aisthorpe

We have laws to protect wildlife so why don’t they work?

While on holiday last week, the view from my hotel room was of a British tourist enjoying a spot of fishing. He caught a small fish which he impaled on a barbed hook to be used to catch a larger fish. In Scotland, this would be illegal as there, live vertebrates cannot be used as fishing bait. South of the border however we lack such decisiveness.

As Boris Johnson quipped when speaking about the EU last year, he is pro cake and pro eating cake, and such nonsense is all too often applied to issues of animal welfare and conservation. In England, rather than deliver an unambiguous yes or no to questions about the rights and wrongs of live-bait and barbed hooks it is left to individual coarse fishery managements and local by-laws to determine what the rules are. We have cake, we eat cake.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking a pop at angling. In terms of what goes on in sports that involve the exploitation of wildlife, angling is at the enlightened end of the spectrum. Angling does great conversation work in maintaining waterways and native fish stocks. And nor am I moaning about killing wildlife. Good luck to the fly-fishers who put trout on the dinner table or the wildfowlers who stock their larders with duck. Hunting for food seems a fairly natural thing for humans to do.

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Brexit is a war already lost

Is she or isn’t she? Since her accession, the public has been puzzled by Theresa May’s stance on Brexit. Was her lukewarm support for Remain merely self-preservation, just wanting to keep out of the fray? Was she a closet Leaver? Well now we know. The Guardian suggests that she is indeed a Remainer, but not just any old Remainer, but a Tory Remainer and so quite happy to switch sides. Paddy Ashdown summed it up in this Tweet.

But what does this tell us about the Tory mind? Well it tells me that the Conservatives are a party unencumbered by the constraints of values and principles, a party where politics is merely a game to be won or lost. Not for the Tory are there any of the questions of morality or conscience that exercise the minds of other parties. The Tory has become Nietzsche’s Übermensch, the self-mastered individual contemptuous of namby-pamby liberalism.

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A progressive alliance of the left is dead


Warning: this article contains an overuse of the word ‘progressive’, a buzzword that doesn’t buzz.

On 24th September the Independent published a list of The Top 10 most popular zombie bad policies. The list included the usual suspects, rail nationalisation, the death penalty, and so on, but to my consternation Jon Rentoul also included this one.

4. Proportional representation. It’s a matter of opinion, but I think it gives disproportionate power to small parties, and it is not obvious to me that Ireland, Germany or Italy are more democratic, better governed or more engaged with politics than we are.

After all the optimism surrounding the building of a progressive alliance of the left to fight for proportional representation, Rentoul’s put-down suggests that an unwelcome cold wind of reality may be blowing.

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far away, the key party in any such progressive alliance was celebrating Jeremy Corbyn tightening his grip on Labour. And with shadow Culture Secretary Kelvin Hopkins calling for the return of Clause IV, it seems unlikely that Labour could now pass any meaningful test of progressiveness even if Mr Corbyn was prepared to play ball with other parties. The progressive alliance idea of cooperation between Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party looks increasingly dead in the water.

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Brexit: World War II without guns

The EU referendum was decided by the baby boomers, the generation to which I belong and a generation that has spent a lifetime romanticising about a conflict in which it had little or no involvement. I spent my boyhood immersed in the glory of World War II. I knew the names of German generals, built Airfix models of Spitfires and ME109s and listened to family war stories. And I believe there are far more people in the UK than is healthy, who like me can name every capital ship in the German fleet! Little wonder then that my generation views Europe with suspicion.

For many baby boomers I suspect that attitudes to the EU are linked to WWII conflict, a war defined in the nostalgia of the opening credits of Dad’s Army where brave little union jacks are driven back across the Channel by menacing swastikas. But what if this nonsense were to turn out to be true? What if Brexit is history repeating itself, but this time without guns? If it is, then this is how things might play out in this admittedly fanciful scenario from an unrepentant Remainer:

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Billingsgate – a crisis for Labour that can be solved by tactical voting for Lib Dem Joe Otten

I live in Rotherham and on May 5th I will vote to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. Since its inception in 2012 the post of South Yorkshire PCC has been held by Labour. The first incumbent, Shaun Wright did not stay the course and was forced to resign in 2014 following a report into the Rotherham child abuse scandal.  His successor, Labour’s Dr Alan Billings has fared little better and was last week caught up in the aftermath of the Hillsborough inquest verdict. He bungled the suspension and replacement of the South Yorkshire Police chief constable and has subsequently failed to answer questions about the £18m of public money his office authorised to be spent on lawyers who unnecessarily presented false allegations against innocent people throughout the Hillsborough inquest. Incredibly Dr Billings failed to see any of this coming. On the very day of the Hillsborough verdict he was occupied launching his re-election campaign by declaring war on litter.

If the ballot papers for the election had not already been printed it seems unlikely that Dr Billings would have survived to fight another day and his ill-timed poor performance has placed Labour in an impossible position. They must back their candidate 100%, but if successful they can hardly be looking forward to the prospect of facing a growing crisis that seems likely to lead to Dr Billings’ resignation. Win or lose Labour is in trouble. The electorate will decide the good doctor’s immediate fate, but if a historic turnout for South Yorkshire PCC elections of under 15% is maintained a Billings victory is unlikely to convince the general public that he has a legitimate mandate.

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Remain is losing momentum – time to change tack


With Boris declaring for Leave at a point where Remain has finally played its less than decisive hand, there is a distinct feeling abroad that the referendum momentum has shifted from Remain towards Leave.

As I see it, the Remain camp is stuck with five problems.

  1. People have had enough of a constant stream of dire warnings about life after Brexit and are coming to the conclusion that the Remain argument is based on scaremongering.
  2. We face a largely hostile press that will continue to urge the public to support Leave.
  3. The ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’ view of our EU membership has produced a list that is good but not compelling.
  4. The Dad’s Army ‘us and them’ view of Europe creates an atmosphere of suspicion that favours a Leave result.
  5. Most crucially of all, the Remain case lacks passion and vision.
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Is protecting wildlife a political issue?

Viewers of BBC’s Winterwatch last week were treated to some wonderful coverage of the private lives of key Scottish Highland predator species such as the golden eagle, fox, and pine marten and a species of particular interest here, a non-predator, the mountain hare. Mountain hares as their name suggests live in upland areas and this includes grouse moors. A grouse moor is an odd environment that at first sight looks natural but is in fact intensively managed in favour of a single species, the red grouse. The perceived villains here are the predators such as the crow, fox and weasel that take a share of the grouse eggs and chicks earmarked for a demanding clientele during the shooting season, and many such predators are routinely removed by gamekeepers in order to maintain artificially high numbers of grouse. However it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the inoffensive mountain hare is also high on the gamekeeper’s hit list. The mountain hare’s crime is to be a warm blooded mammal and therefore a potential host for the ticks that transmit louping-ill disease (don’t ask) to the hapless grouse.

Because the mountain hare is believed to transmit disease to the grouse it is intensively culled. In December 2014, Scottish National Heritage alarmed by the destruction, led calls for grouse moors to exercise ‘voluntary constraint’ on excessive mountain hare culling and last year a group of ten conservation groups in Scotland called on Scottish National Heritage to upgrade this to an immediate three-year ban to allow a breathing space for the conservation status of the species to be accurately determined. And this is the point of the story, the grouse moor manager is entitled to cull the mountain hare without restraint on little evidence other than supposition, whereas the conservationist has to scientifically prove beyond reasonable doubt that protection of the species is justified. The dice are therefore loaded; the jury is rigged. A far higher burden of proof is required to protect wildlife than that needed to destroy wildlife.

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Failed flooding policy finds a scapegoat

Whenever a government loses control of the situation there has to be a scapegoat, and on the issue of flooding it’s not Sir Philip Dilley the Environment Agency chairman who resigned on Monday.  After his PR blunder of refusing to interrupt his holiday to visit the flooded areas he gave up his £100k position on the grounds that what had started out as a part-time non-executive post was now looking suspiciously like actual work. No, this winter’s devastating floods we are asked to believe, weren’t so much the result of government failings, but of an over concern for the protection of wildlife! “If we have to choose between people and wildlife, we will always, of course, choose people,” Sir James Bevan Chief Exec of the Environment Agency told the BBC at the turn of the year.

Like me, you may have been puzzled by this message and couldn’t quite see its relevance to what was happening across the North on that day, and the plot thickened to Bisto consistency a few days later when Liz Truss announced in a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference that Defra will be allowing farmers to dredge ‘ditches’ without seeking permission from the Environment Agency because they ‘know their land best’. Her own experts say that dredging is useful for improving navigation and land drainage, but has little value in flood prevention. So again, what was going on?

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Words I can’t mention


I learned a valuable lesson on LDV last week and that is that there are some words so emotionally charged that their mere mention provokes a pre-programmed response more incendiary than the sight of a cat to a Staffy. So while I wanted to talk about the Lib Dem take on populist green causes I naively opened my piece with a discussion of the F-word and at that point lost my audience. I won’t make the mistake of stepping on that particular land mine again, you know the one I mean, the issue of vulpine persecution, Basil Brush meets the Hound of the Baskervilles?

Another topical tantrum trigger, one that is splitting Corbyn’s Labour party this week is the T-word – Neptune’s toasting fork (7 letters). No, I can’t say it for fear of unleashing a figurative Armageddon on the terrors of the real thing and blowing any chance of getting to the punch line.

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Blue foxes, red greens and a gold star

Boxing Day saw the Countryside Alliance wrong footed. The Countryside Alliance for those not in the know is an organisation that masquerades as the champion of rural life but is in fact merely the mouthpiece for blood sports such as fox hunting and grouse shooting. It is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing and on Boxing Day like many others it was caught out by the weather.

Boxing Day is fox hunting’s showpiece day and the Countryside Alliance went wild on Twitter to proclaim that a quarter of a million fox hunters and their supporters had taken to town squares and village greens across the land to celebrate what they see as the impending and inevitable demise of the Hunting Act. With Christmas card scenes of scarlet clad gents and gentesses on horseback trotting ceremoniously in a sea of hounds and polished hunting horns heralding a return to Merry England we were treated to an endless stream of romantic snaps.

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