So fishing is to be sold down the river. Again. This week has spawned (no pun intended) lots of fishing jokes, representing a certain gallows humour, but to the fishermen and their families it’s not funny.
We are told that this sellout – sorry, deal – is only for transition. If you really believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. Fishing is being sacrificed on the altar of political interests once more. It is one of the very few industries left where masculine traits of physical strength and courage against the elements are rewarded. Fishing is not a job but a way of life for proud working-class families living in forgotten and unglamorous towns such as Peterhead in Scotland.
The reaction to the news has predictably shown the huge cultural divides between Remainers and Leavers. Remainers have sniggered contemptuously at what they see as Leavers’ stupid priorities and sentimentality. Adopting the spreadsheet mentality you would expect from those who lead atomised lives obsessed with getting and spending, they state, quite correctly, that in economic terms fishing is minuscule, accounting for 0.5 per cent of GDP. The safeguarding of other industries is way more important.
In strictly economic terms of course they are right, but not in cultural ones. Fishing is totemic to a maritime nation. To the Leaver, the opportunities of Brexit were primarily about values, not money, and we had a unique opportunity to use Brexit to imagine a new unifying identity for ourselves that would heal our confused and bitterly fractured society. Once Protestantism held the various British tribes together, but that plainly isn’t going to fly in the 21st century, and building a new national identity around the narrative of a great maritime trading nation was as benign, inclusive and exciting an identity as any you can find. Yes, of course reality is far more complex, yes, of course these things get overblown and romanticised, but all nations need their founding myths, and imagining ours through the lens of Treasure Island or Conrad has great attraction.
If the Tories understood or cared for the country they governed, and how vital it is to build a new conservative culture to replace the failed politically correct state we have today, they would not have treated fishing so dismissively. Unfortunately the Tories do not care for conservatism or the nation, just as they didn’t back in 1974 when they last sold fishing down the river, and just as they won’t in the future.