Sketch: Nick Clegg's speech

Members should “prepare for vitriol and abuse".

When Nick Clegg revealed his message to his members was to go back to their constituencies and “prepare for vitriol and abuse" observers wondered why wait that long.

And thus the sound of blades being sharpened on handy rocks from Brighton’s sand-less beach provided a useful indicator of the welcome being prepared for the Lib Dem leader as he prepared to tell his party that they would not be reaching the sunlit uplands any time soon.

Obviously aware of the threat to their leader the lights in the conference centre were switched off before the speech to allow loyal and ,one assumes, fully frisked members to gather on stage to provide a safe, if staring, background to his end of the conference speech.

With party support now in a place where the doldrums would be a plus and half the MPs in the hall heading for the dole the audience brought a whole new meaning to enthusiasm.

Thankfully for Nick his path had been smoothed yesterday by the decision of Danny Alexander’s mum to allow her youngest a day trip to Brighton to make his own speech.

Still masquerading as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny had plundered the “Greatest Scottish jokes of all time” annual for 1908 to remind party members why they were as deep in the odure as the opinion polls suggest.

Whether this was a deliberate attempt to remind delegates just how worse the situation could be is unknown but Danny was certainly given a prominent position as his leader addressed the faithful.

Having spent much of the parliamentary season in mournful contemplation of the turn-ups in his trousers it was a slightly surreal scene as he strode onto the platform to be announced yet again as the Deputy Prime Minister.

As half the members in the hall joined the party confident in the belief that they would never be in power the reality is clearly a shock but Nick made it clear that having got a sniff of it—and what goes with it—for him at least not to mention Danny’s mam, there would be no going back.

And he turned the history of the Lib Dens on its head by declaring if people wanted protest not power they should vote Labour which, sadly for him , most are apparently already doing.

The past is gone and is not coming back he told the delegates as he announced the last leader but three, Paddy Ashdown, would be getting them ready for the next general election.

And talking of which there was no mention of the other one with Prime Minister in his title busy getting ready for tonight’s appearance on Letterman in New York.

One can only hope that if the” Pleb” story comes up Letterman will seek to confirm with the PM whether his Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell prefers to be called “Thrasher” after his time at Rugby school or by his other favourite title BSD , ‘Big Swinging Dick.”

But that is for conferences to come but meanwhile back in Brighton where

days past a chauffeur-driven was only a dream a party leader’s speech would go on and on as pledges never to be fulfilled were made.

But Nick needed just over the half hour in the new world to tell them they would need binoculars to see the good times coming.

“Imagine yourself standing on the doorstep in 2015”, he asked them.

They did and he left to slightly hysterical applause.

Nick Clegg and wife. Photograph: Getty Images.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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 to 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 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 experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect 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 that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast 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 construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates 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), fracking helped the US reduce 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 necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory 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 natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, 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 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 Conservatives 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 sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “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.