David Miliband is having a strong anti-Tory campaign

Join the dots, and a distinct, coherent attack emerges from the Foreign Secretary.

David Miliband, who has his own campaign blog, which I referred to last week, had an eye-catching line in his speech at Labour HQ dismantling the Tories' "big society" rhetoric yesterday, when he said:

The words may be John F Kennedy but the policies are pure George W Bush.

Yet Miliband is about much more than one-liners. In fact, if you join the dots, his latest speech was part of a series of powerful attacks on the Tory party that show the Foreign Secretary has been paying close attention to his Conservative opponents over recent months.

The New Labour moderniser has apparently come firmly to the view that the Conservatives have not, in fact, put in changes equivalent to the ones that began in his own party with Neil Kinnock's 1985 expulsion of Militant and continued under Tony Blair, who symbolically abolished Clause Four.

Yesterday, Miliband rallied the Labour faithful, saying:

The Tory head and the Tory heart are at odds. The head tells them that the world has changed, that they have been rejected at three elections because they were seen as the Nasty Party. The heart tells them something different: that government is always the problem not the solution, that Europe is a threat not an opportunity, that the environment is an add-on at best and a distraction at worst.

When you peel away the rhetoric of the Big Society, what do you find? The message is about self-service, not government at your service; on your bike, not by your side. They say they're empowering you. The truth is they are abandoning you. Why else would they block commitments to 1:1 tuition in schools, offer gambles not guarantees for those needing cancer treatment, retrenchment not reform when it comes to public services?

Their manifesto says they oppose big government but that they support the NHS, the biggest employer in the world; they can believe either but not both.

It's not the Big Society but the Big Gamble.

The major Tory attacks from Miliband began at last year's party conference, when he delighted activists by saying, among other things, that the party's positioning in Europe made him "sick".

And in February he gave a speech to the think tank Demos, about which I blogged at the time here and which you can read in full here, in which he said:

New Labour said the values never change but that the means need to be updated. The Tories want it the other way around. They say the values have changed, but, miraculously, the policies should stay the same

I recognise the Tory difficulty. We faced it after 1994. You need to reassure people you are not a risk; and you need to offer change. But while we promised evolution not revolution in the short term, like sticking to Tory spending limits, we offered a platform for radical change in the medium to long term, from the minimum wage to school investment.

Cameron's got himself facing the other way round. The heart insisted on radical change in the short term -- cuts in inheritance tax for the richest states, a marriage tax allowance, immediate cuts in public spending, bring back fox-hunting. But after that, the head gives the impression that it really doesn't know what to do, other than press pause on reform, offer a £1m internet prize for the best policy ideas, and then go off and play with the Wii.

They have managed the unique feat of being so determined to advertise pragmatism that they have completely obliterated any medium-term vision to their politics, while cleaving to short-term commitments that leave the impression they are ideological zealots. It's the precise opposite of the New Labour approach in the 1990s.

The result is that today's Conservatism looks more and more like a toxic cocktail of Tory traditions. The government on offer from David Cameron would be as meritocratic as Macmillan, as compassionate as Thatcher, and as decisive as Major.

There is a distinct theme here. The Foreign Secretary, who described Cameron's "camera on, camera off" approach to politics in front of millions on BBC1's Question Time last week, is emerging as a considerable force against a Conservative Party he well understands.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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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.