Owen Smith fishing with his 'rich Tory friends' – when Twitter gets rather silly

The tweet above, and others like it, caught my eye.

Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith is pictured on a fishing trip with rich Tory MPs Richard Benyon and Charles Walker. “Not much socialism there” was one tweeted comment.

So, the inference is that Owen Smith has lots of rich Tory chums and goes on fishing trips with them. So he can’t possibly be a socialist, or even a true “new Labour” man.

The tweet particularly caught my eye because I had a good idea where the photo came from.

It came from the website of the Angling Trust, “fighting for fishing”. It illustrated an article written by former Labour MP for Reading West, Martin Salter. The photo is from a trip to the River Pang organised by the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group, which seeks to foster positive parliamentary work in favour of angling, the UK’s most popular participatory sport.

In his article, Martin Salter explains how he struggled to set up that group:

My problem was that there were strict rules about the membership of these All Party Groups with 20 nominees required from across the parties. Although I could easily round up ten Labour MPs from my own side, including several keen coarse anglers, I also needed anther ten from the combined opposition parties and there wasn’t anyone who seemed as keen as me to take this forward and to put in the work.

Luckily all that changed in 2005 with the election of Charles Walker as Conservative MP for Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Charles tracked me down within days of his election and soon we were arranging some fishing trips. I had the pleasure in helping him catch his first barbel and he helped me iron out some of the many flaws in my fly fishing technique. Charles was clearly a fine all round angler, a great orator and just the person to help get the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group off the ground. We were joined by my neighbouring MP Richard Benyon who represents Newbury whilst on the Labour side we had Mike Foster from Worcester who was an accomplished match fisherman and my old friend Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham. After I retired from the Commons in 2010 Charles took over from me as chair of the group and then passed the baton to another keen Conservative angler, George Hollingbery.

Bear in mind, as anyone who knows of the man will attest, Martin Salter was one of the most “tribal” Labour MP’s ever. But he set up an all-party parliamentary group, on a subject which is natural territory for Labour MPs, and managed to involve some Tory MPs, including one who gave the use of his land for the group’s trips.

This seems to me to an excellent example of cross-party co-operation in Parliament, particularly on a subject which is very dear to many Labour voters’ hearts.

It is therefore a great shame that a photo from this activity has been used out of context on Twitter to try to smear Owen Smith as some sort of non-Labour person.

And, no, I couldn’t say all that in 140 characters.


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