Man is by nature a political animal.
Toss the word politics into any conversation and it’s a fair bet that half your audience will get fired up, and the other half glaze over. But whether you’ve dreams of state yourself or simply think the whole lot are a bunch of crooked shysters, one thing’s for sure – they’re making the decisions, not us.
And there’s the potential problem. Just what does your average politician know about climbing, hill walking, and mountaineering? About the average day out in the hills of the UK? Not a lot at a guess, their operating information is probably a rather frightening mix of Joe Simpson and Annabelle Bond; crevasse bad, blonde hair good. And chances are that we’re no better either, our views of the political arena based on an accumulated drip of Yes Minister and saucy scandals. So any opportunity to help these two very different worlds understand each other has got to be a good thing.
It’s all very well hounding MPs whenever we perceive a threat to our interests, but if they’ve got to get up to speed, with say, the impact of CRoW on coastal land, then it's easy for them to lose interest before they even start. Which is why the BMC ventured deep into the lion’s den and organised a drinks reception at the recent Labour Party Conference. We invited a host of MPs and a broad selection of the climbing, walking and mountaineering world, crammed them all into an upstairs room of the fine Briton’s Protection pub in Manchester and let free wine and canapes work their magic.
Representing the best of British climbing and mountaineering were such stalwarts as Sir Chris Bonington and Alan Hinkes, plus the likes of Andy Cave, Lucy Creamer, Leo Houlding and Rich Simpson. But it wasn’t all big names, Plas y Brenin and mountain training representatives were there, BMC Committee members and members of local climbing and walking clubs popped in too, as well as ten-year-old Merheen Aktar, the blind finalist from the BMC Youth Climbing Series in 2005. And bravely flying the flag for Parliament were the Minister for Sport, Rt Hon Richard Caborn, backed up by Labour MPs Alun Michael (Cardiff South & Penarth), Angela Smith (Sheffi eld Hillsborough), Tony Cunningham (Workington), and John Mann (Bassettlaw).
Caborn came to the reception straight from a British Olympic Association meeting and spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of climbing activities for young people, especially young offenders, and the Government’s ambitious agendas to increase participation in sport, reduce obesity and slice crime levels. He spoke of the need to develop climbing and mountaineering in a sustainable way, highlighting the opportunities for the BMC to work in conjunction with the School Sports Partnership and invited the BMC to meet with him in London to follow up discussions. His message was clear, “My door is open. The challenge to the BMC is to have a very clear plan of what you want and what you can deliver”. In other words - help us and we’ll help you, but don’t think you’ll be getting money for blokes to wave flags on top of mountains for nothing.
BMC President Dr Charles Clarke and Sir Chris Bonington also delivered speeches, emphasising the breadth and spirit of mountaineering and illustrating the important contribution it makes to society – including health benefits, contribution to rural and urban economies, national achievement and life long participation. A question and answer session followed, giving all present the chance to quiz the Minister Richard Caborn. With over 130 sports in his remit, the event might even help ensure that climbing and mountaineering are near the top of his thoughts.
It’s not all PR work though, elsewhere we have been building on our long associations with the Environment and Rural Affairs Ministers. Earlier this year the BMC met with Jim Knight (Rural Affairs Minister) - at Curbar Edge of all places. And only last week our crack access team of Bill Renshaw and Cath Flitcroft hooked up with Barry Gardiner (Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural Affairs) to discuss the extension of CRoW to coastal land, improvements in the mapping process and to raise awareness of the plight of Vixen Tor. Then next month it’s onto transport issues when BMC Officer Guy Keating will be part of a team meeting with Stephen Ladyman, the Transport Minister to air our concerns about the Longendale bypass proposal.
And it doesn’t end there - we’ve got allies in even higher places too. Lord Tony Greaves is himself a climber, and a longtime supporter of the BMC. He reads Summit, is pro Open Access, and can always be relied upon to make our views known in the House of Lords. In short, the modern BMC is a politically well connected organisation, and this is vitally important if we’re to continue influencing national policy on issues of relevance to climbers and hill walkers. So whether politics thrills or bores the pants off you, rest assured that we’re working on your behalf to keep grassroots climbing, hill walking, and mountaineering hassle free.