Outside of Wales few will have heard of Hannah Blythyn and given the drab uniformity of politicians generally, it is a fair bet that only a modest number of those resident in the Principality will have heard of her either. Were one dipping into a box of bits from which to assemble the archetype of a Labour politician, it is a fair bet that once put together the result would bear a striking resemblance to Miss Blythyn. A pasty, face (tick) indicative of too many hours spent in poorly lit committee rooms, she is a former employee of the Unite union (tick) and beyond a vague reference to having worked briefly in the “hospitality industry”, has spent her entire life thus far in a purely political environment (tick). A vigorous campaigner on LGBT issues (tick) she was one of the first openly lesbian (tick) members of the Welsh assembly. Thus in the upside world of politics she is therefore considered eminently qualified to serve as a Minister for the Environment. That we are hearing about her now is due to a recent intervention she made in the form of a letter to the head of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the agency responsible for maintaining and managing the country’s natural environment and as such charged with oversight of shooting on Welsh public land.
Unlike Ms Blythyn, the people at NRW tend to have backgrounds relevant to their particular brief, which was why NRW, having considered the facts and evaluated the impacts, beneficial and otherwise, was on the cusp of giving permission for the continuation of shooting on the land under its control. Alas, Miss Blythyn had other ideas and in a letter to NRW Director, Clare Pillman, spelt out her opposition to the move. Or rather she didn’t spell it out, preferring instead to cite (without saying what they were), “ethical reasons” for not maintaining the status quo. The recipient of the letter is, pace Miss Blythyn, also an archetype of a kind, but not on this occasion a Labour politician. Clare Pillman is your run of the mill Quango rat, who beyond growing up on a smallholding, has no special expertise in anything other than bending to the will of her political bosses. Appointed to the role only a year ago, Pullman was never likely to ask her mistress to actually spell out what those “ethical reasons” were, not the least because NRW is in an unholy mess. With its accounts being queried by its auditors for the past three years running, its last chairwoman forced to step down in a row over dodgy timber contracts and a mountain of other complaints about its performance, the likelihood that shooting would be a subject about which Clare Pillman would take issue with her boss, was always going to be very slim.
Given the person that she clearly is it would be quite wrong to hint that Miss Blythyn is anything other than sincere in her opposition to shooting. After all it is a position that goes with the territory, along with for example reading The Guardian, class hatred and, alas, all too often (although not as far as we know in Miss Blythyn case) anti-Semitism, but that does not make her intervention any the less a piece of political opportunism. Wales faces significant environmental challenges and beyond publishing bold strategy papers, the Government there is not getting on top of things. Banning shooting on Welsh public land is just the sort of tasty and diverting morsel which a politician can toss in the direction of an electorate clamouring to know why nothing is happening in relation to more important and pressing matters. It says to the proletariat: “Look at us. See how we care. We love birds and animals and we hate the toffs who go out killing them. We have given them a smack in the eye. Aren’t we good, Mummy?”. Well, not necessarily, because currently the British Association for Shooting and Conservation is considering a legal challenge to the proposed ban and if so, Miss Blythyn will be required to provide details of what exactly those ethical reasons may be. Acts of spite don’t sit well with the judiciary especially when they involve job losses and hardship, so watch this space.