In this week’s New Statesman: The fight for the Church of England’s soul

George Pitcher writes on Rowan Williams, the political church, and who comes next. PLUS: John Bercow, the runaway speaker.

George Pitcher: Between church and state

In our cover story this week, former public affairs secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury George Pitcher considers the question: just how separate are piety and politics?

He examines the tenure of the politically vocal Dr Rowan Williams, newly valedictorian Archbishop, and asserts the qualities of a worthy replacement: “William’s successor must be someone of personality and guts.”

 As a larger consideration, he asks: “just how political is the role of archbishop of Canterbury”? He writes:

We start, therefore, with a paradox – the Church of England is deeply rooted in British political life, yet it transcends party politics. Williams has managed this difficult relationship with the nation’s politics remarkably well. With carefully chosen interventions, the outrage of politicians and in some quarters of the media may be seen to have demonstrated that he has got this aspect of his job bang on.

[...]

He has spoken out frequently against welfare cuts, successfully fronted the campaign to prevent the government selling off our national forestry to its mates as tax dodges, quietly held David Cameron’s feet to the fire over his “big society” rhetoric, criticised our policies on Europe and, of course, caused a minor storm in Westminster with a leader comment on the quality of our political life when he guest-edited the New Statesman in June last year.

It’s a tough act to follow. Whoever succeeds him in the early days of 2013 will need to maintain the momentum that Williams has established, without being taken hostage by any parliamentary faction. It’s a prospect complicated by the politically atypical nature of the Christian world-view. If one is to generalise, Christian politics are often economically progressive and socially conservative.

 

The NS Profile - John Bercow: “I’ve never liked little cliques”

In our lead interview this week, Jemima Khan meets Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow: “misfit”, “thorn in the side of David Cameron” and “punchbag for the right-wing press”.

Having notoriously endured the worst of the parliamentary “playground” culture - juvenile personal insults and boy’s-club cliques – his hard earned high rank,  historically weighty position and his permission to punish outspoken ministers are, as Khan puts it, “a nice two fingers up at the bullies, snobs and anti-Semites he has encountered in his life so far.” Red an exclusive extract here.

 

Andrew Adonis: Bury the past

In our NS Essay, Labour Peer and former schools minister Andrew Adonis draws out a new manifesto between private and state education. The division between state and private education is deeply entrenched, but why should it be? Adonis proposes an end to separationist policy, stating that a system of sponsorship would improve education for all. He begins:

Two of the greatest challenges in English education today are, first, not just to reduce the number of underperforming comprehensives but to eradicate them, and second, to forge a new settlement between state and private education.

I put these two challenges together because they go together. It is my view, after 20 years of engagement with schools of all types, that England will never have a world-class education system or a “one-nation” society until state and private schools are part of a shared, national endeavour to develop the talents of all young people to the full.

The two also go together, in that academies are at the heart of the solution to both challenges. It is academies that are systematically eradicating failing comprehensives. And academies – as independent state schools – are the vehicle by which private schools can become systematically engaged in establishing and running state-funded schools.

So, just as the challenge is simple – how to unite state schools and private schools in a common endeavour – I believe the solution is also simple. Every successful private school, and private school foundation, should sponsor an academy or academies. They should do this alongside their existing fee-paying school or schools, turning themselves into federations of private- and state-funded independent schools and following the lead of a growing number of private schools and their foundations that have done precisely this and would not think of going back....

 

Rafael Behr: Cameron’s own backbenches land deadlier blows on him than labour

From the Politics Column this week: Rafael Behr examines David Cameron’s tendency, if not to “lurch”, then at least to gently “sashay” away from his proposed line of policy:

Labour consistently overestimate Cameron and Osborne’s intellectual rigidity. All the evidence shows they change their minds with ease. The u-turn is their most practised manoeuvre. Ed Miliband likes to attack the Prime Minister for what Labour imagines him to believe. Conservative MPs have the better measure of their leader, disliking him for not really believing in anything at all.

Cameron’s lack of a creed was once an asset. It persuaded many voters that he was a reasonable man, distinct from the fanaticism of old Tory caricature. It flummoxed Labour. But the gap has gone too long unfilled. The path to a governing purpose has been too meandering; no lurches, just a sashaying sequence of tactics to grab and hold power, accompanied with a complacent expectation that the party will tag along. But a growing number of MPs don’t believe Cameron’s way can work – a prophecy that fulfils itself. Whenever Tories pop up to say their leader is fumbling in the dark for answers, they obstruct the Downing Street searchlights. The louder they call Cameron a loser, the truer it becomes.

 

David Blanchflower: Yet more dubious promises from the Republican fantasist brigade

From the Economics Column this week: David Blanchflower writes from America - a searing review of Republican National Convention, Paul Ryan’s “unusual” budget proposal, current employment figures and Romney’s “bold” claim to create 12 million jobs in his first term:

Paul Ryan’s budget appears to be a classic example of a Keynesian stimulus, although of an unusual kind. The Republican vice-presidential candidate is in favour of huge public spending cuts on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and student grants, to name but a few. Plus, huge tax cuts on the rich so that Mitt Romney and his various billionaire supporters would get richer while the poor would get poorer. In addition, Ryan wants a $2trn increase in unspecified defence spending that the Pentagon has made clear it doesn’t want. Romney and Ryan would not raise any taxes but they say they would close unspecified tax loopholes. These could include mortgage and retirement tax relief, which would be hugely unpopular. So Romney not only refuses to release his tax returns but will not say how he intends to fund his tax cuts. This was all made clear to the American people by Bill Clinton, whose recent Democratic convention speech was an economics masterclass.

 

Jon Cruddas reviews Bloody Nasty People: The rise of Britains far right, by Daniel Trilling

Why bother with the BNP?” asks Jon Cruddas in his review of Daniel Trilling’s Bloody Nasty People, “...why write a new text on the growth of the far right? Isn’t it in free fall?”

But within the pages of Trilling’s investigation of radical right groups like the EDL and the BNP - and the central anecdotes at the heart of their ascension in the British political mainstream - Cruddas finds cause for consideration, such as the failed Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain back in 2000 and the Bradford, Oldham and Burnley race riots in 2001. He concludes:

BloodyNasty People walks us through the various sites of contest across England. It offers sharp portraits while also keeping an eye on the increasingly harsh tone of political language driven by fear, polling and press dynamics...Despite our post-Olympic glow, Trilling’s book is a useful reminder of our Balkanised political landscape.

 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

Jonathan Portes - director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and a former chief economist at the Cabinet Office - lays into the “factual errors” and “slipshod research” that pervade Britannia Unchained: Global lessons for growth and prosperity, a new text authored by five conservative MPs calling for an overhaul of the “idle” British work ethic and benefits culture. Further on, Simon Heffer - in Books - dissects Britannia Unchained in our lead review piece. “This book deserves to be taken seriously by all with an interest in politics,” Heffer writes. “It especially deserves to be taken seriously by the clique of complacent, trust-funded PPE graduates who call the tune in the Tory party.”

In The Critics section of this week’s New Statesman, poet Julia Copus examines literary representations of house and home. “Our sense of past self,” she writes, “is often so closely connected with the house we lived in at the time as to be inseparable from it.”

In the Books interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Michael Chabon about his new novel Telegraph Avenue, set in a racially mixed section of Oakland, California. “I felt I’d been away from consensus, from reality in my fiction,” Chabon says. “Not since 1995 had I set a novel in a world that was more or less recognisably the world I was living in.” Also in books: Sarah Churchwell eviscerates Paul Auster’s Winter Journal.

PLUS: Ryan Gilbey on Woody Allen’s partial return to form, Felicity Cloake on why oysters are best enjoyed naked, and Will Self plunges deeper into strange America in Madness of Crowds.

All this and more in this week's New Statesman, on newsstands around the country and available for purchase here

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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 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.