There’s no fool like an old fool

Why are so many fishermen so right wing? That is a question posed to me recently. That many are reactionaries may be observed from the numerous fishing forums out there. I wrote about the ubiquity of these characters in an earlier post. Is it something to do with demographics? Coarse and sea anglers especially tend to be working men, now called socioeconomic classification 4 and below. Often traditional Labour supporters in the past, a shift towards the current populism seems to have occurred. Urged on by tabloid newspapers, they show traits of xenophobia and racism, manifest in the present hostility towards the EU.

Fly fishermen tend to be over-represented by the more educated echelons of society, if only because it’s generally more expensive to go fly fishing. This mix is apparent on flyfishing.co.uk, one of the online forums run by Fish and Fly Ltd, a company with a business model based on website advertising. Unlike some fishing forums, it allows political discussion, much of which centres on Brexit, the all-absorbing topic of the day and responsible for some of the nastier goings on in our country at present.

This unpleasantness may be seen in the exchanges on flyfishing.co.uk, which also reflects the socioeconomic division mentioned. Those who appear well informed are predominantly or exclusively in favour of the UK staying in Europe, while the others are mainly against. In fact the anti-Europeans nearly all hold typical populist opinions: climate change denial and a penchant for conspiracy theories are favourites, with plenty of xenophobia on top. Young environmental activists like Greta Thunberg, one hope in our rather hopeless situation, bring out the grizzled old misogynist, another familiar quality in ageing reactionaries.

Though both sides are capable of impoliteness to put it mildly, some of the ‘leavers’ are downright abusive, descending to the bullying we’ve seen on the street on TV, so much so that political topics were recently banned from the forum. So for a period the vituperation subsided. But from a commercial viewpoint that has proved to be a problem. Curiously anglers would seem to prefer political bickering — it cannot be called a debate or argument — to chatting about fishing. Hence traffic dropped. For a site that relies on that traffic to generate advertising revenue, such a drop raises an alarm. Therefore political topics have now been reinstated with strict admonitions about the consequences of bad behaviour.

This is understandable. Kirsty Hewitt, managing director of the company and administrator of the forum, is a reasonable person, unlike the majority of other forum administrators, and no business wants its revenue to drop. She certainly doesn’t share the reactionary opinions and tries to be fair to all. Unfortunately too much leeway has been given to several abusive individuals, though eventually at least one had their account deleted and two left. The worst example remains, another chauvinistic old man who has apparently decided to devote his remaining years to opining at length on this forum.

The arguments over EU membership are outside the scope of this blog. What anglers should be keenly interested in, however, are the European environmental laws aimed at improving our waterways. Leaving Europe would probably mean abandonment of at least some, perhaps all of them, to the future detriment of all our rivers. Not that this troubles the old buffers who grumble into their beer and at each other about foreigners and imagined overseas invasions. But they are not the future and maybe for them that is the problem. So far on flyfishing.co.uk, they are controlling their abusive impulses, at least to some extent.

Addendum

After a couple of days’ lull, the individuals who were the objects of the post above got wind, loaded their barrels with bile and let rip. Shoot first, ask questions later; except they never have any questions, certainly not of themselves. Well, it was not a pleasant response but fully expected, given what I wrote about them. None seems to appreciate the irony of abusing someone who has pointed out their abusive natures. The nastiness was so intense that one of the decent users on flyfishing.co.uk expressed the thought of leaving.

Following all this, I learned that several had asked for me to be banned from the site. Hold up the mirror and they try to get rid of the mirror. None of the abusers was banned, however, despite the warnings some weeks ago that abusive posts would lead to that. Why might this be? One explanation is financial. Commercial sites rely on page views, and losing too many users, whoever they are, reduces revenue. Leaving these accounts active may not be strictly ethical, but it may make commercial sense, at least in the short term. In the long term this may not hold, as with the sea fishing site WSF, which gained a bad reputation over time and eventually led to a major upheaval.

For the moment the tirade has stopped, though should they read this it may start again. The prejudice implicit in their politics is bad enough. But the real objection is that at heart they are nasty pieces of work.

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