Sister Dorries and the labour camp

Finally is it possible to work out the real agenda of David Cameron's Conservatives?

I commend to you the blog of Tory MP and friend of the Fundies (that's Christian Fundamentalists in case you didn't know) Nadine Dorries.

Have a good read and then contrast and compare the way her party leader, Lexus Dave Cameron, tries to pass himself off. You now know the form: no more laughing at the poor. No more scapegoating the single mothers. The caring wrinkling of the brow to indicate principled stands over the 42 days...

'Ok,' you cry, 'but he's a sort of walking policy vacuum. No-one knows what he might do when in power.' Well I wonder if we can infer the real agenda of the Mod Cons from Sister Dorries's blog.

But more than that it's worth reading for its pure unbridled silliness.

For example on Giles 'whoops a daisy' Chichester MEP - who quit his role as leader of the Tories in Brussels after admitting breaking expenses rules: i.e. paying thousands of pounds in staff allowances to a firm of which he is a paid director.

Here goes our Nadine: "The frenzied attack against Conservative MPs and MEPs, orchestrated by and emanating from the left wing BBC and press has equalled that of an animal in its death throes. The more terminal the position looks for Labour, the more desperate the BBC and the left wing press become."

Hmmm. Tell that to Conservative Central Office hanger on turned BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

But it gets even better.

Here she is on law and order - perhaps not so far in her thinking from David 'death penalty' Davis...

"I believe strongly that we should have County Sheriffs to replace Chief Constables, that they should be voted for and elected by the people, and therefore fully accountable to the people.

Which Sheriff of Bedfordshire would go back to the people for re-election having presided over rising crime?

One sure way to make sure your police force works is to make the top job dependent upon results: a performance related position.

A friend sent me this:

"Sheriff Joe Arpaio created the 'tent city jail' to save Arizona from spending tens of millions of dollars on another expensive prison complex.

He has jail meals down to 20 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them.

He banned smoking and pornographic magazines in the jails, and took away their weightlifting equipment and cut off all but 'G' movies. He says: 'They're in jail to pay a debt to society not to build muscles so they can assault innocent people when the leave.'

He started chain gangs to use the inmates to do free work on county and city projects and save taxpayers' money.

Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn't get sued for discrimination.""

She goes on (and on as a matter of fact) quoting about the pink uniforms, the searing heat, the forced viewing of Newt Gingrich's history of America - cruel and unusual punishment in my book and, no doubt, in his.

Of course the soft-heared pro-lifer doesn't agree with all of it - oh no. But then she doesn't say which aspects of this American gulag she would leave out.

Must be lovely to be punctilious in your observance of the law which made me wonder if Sister Dorries has copyright permission to reproduce all those photos of inmates. Perhaps she'll let us know.

Moving on.

I was watching some TV the other day and had the misfortune of happening across my own personal version of hell. You'll be familiar with the fabulous Sartre play No Exit or Huis Clos. People lumped in a room together for eternity - hell is other people and all that.

Well this is mine. Stuck in front of an hour-long edition of Eastenders followed by the Apprentice final.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
GETTY
Show Hide image

North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry insiders argue that job creation in the UK could rival that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed only one in seven of the jobs the industry said would be created actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates 10 times more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), the US reduced its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without the introduction of fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that fracking is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we are only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservaitves support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This is a sentiment that was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision as a “fantastic opportunity” for fracking.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because of the question of their replacement once they eventually run out: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.