Why did the police send Kennedy undercover?

The efforts of the police to undermine democratic protest expose the ugly political realities of Bri

Ed Ballard misses the point in his blog on the undercover cop Mark Kennedy's infiltration of a group of climate-change activists. The question is not "Was it worth it?" but "Why was it done?"

The answer to that question reveals something rotten in the state of Britain, something the vast majority of people are completely unaware of – the reality of the political nature of policing in this country.

All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.

Indeed, the revolving door between the corporate and political worlds means, as far as protest is concerned, that they are one and the same.

An exaggeration? Afraid not. Only those who have never protested regularly nestle in the kind of blissful ignorance that allows them to question that this is the true state of play. A scratched head about why on earth the police would waste such vast resources on a bunch of "tree-huggers" is indicative of the successful propaganda that has constabulary spokespeople stating regularly, and with a straight face: "We are here to facilitate peaceful protest."

As long as this lie receives the oxygen of mainstream media validation, the public has no chance whatever of seeing the country as it really is. Warning: when the Met is silent, and when the Director of Public Prosecutions refuses to speak, as in this case, there is a nasty smell in the air that a wise person will follow to its source.

If the cap FITs

Something that smells very bad indeed, and is typical of the kind of strategy used constantly against campaign groups, is the policing of the movement against the arms manufacturer EDM MSM in Brighton. Want proof of the offensive odour? Try the Sussex force's own video footage, acquired and brilliantly combined with activist and CCTV images in the jaw-dropping documentary On the Verge. And be sure to reach for a nosegay as police "intervene" at venues due to show the film.

Feeling woozy yet? Step forward, the FIT team! Or Forward Intelligence Team, the police photographers who routinely turn up at perfectly legal protests and film completely innocent people for having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights.

This unit and its dubious operations provide probably the most convincing evidence of the police's view of campaigners as elements that are dangerous to the state. Only if you have had its camera inches from your face while knowing you have done absolutely nothing wrong can you know how laughable are police pronouncements on "facilitation".

How sinister and Orwellian that word becomes when one knows the truth behind it. So, it is in no way surprising that the police attempted to shut down the activist response to FIT recently, the FITwatch website, with an email to the web host. Unfortunately for them, the content was mirrored almost immediately on over 100 other sites, rendering their efforts useless.

Netcu, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, is another police organisation with a malodorous miasma surrounding it. Netcu was the source, in 2008, of a "green smear" story in the Observer (which was subsequently withdrawn, so obvious was the attempt to create panic about environmentalists). The article "revealed" that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons".

But the problem was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up this hysterical statement apart from the campaign group Earth First's perfectly reasonable claim that the world suffers from overpopulation. And just to clarify who exactly qualifies as a "domestic extremist", George Monbiot wrote soon afterwards that the villagers of Radley who had campaigned to save the local lake from being filled with ash by npower were just the sort of terrorists the state says we need to be protected from.

In the United States, too, a response to state repression of the environmental movement has resulted in the website Green is the New Red, which today reports: "The justice department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI's obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the 'number one domestic terrorism threat', would leave more dangerous threats unchecked."

So, wonder not why a police officer was sent deep undercover into an environmental campaign group. These protesters threaten powerful interests and bring with them the added "danger" of a social conscience, as well as the seed of a new kind of society, one that puts people and planet above profit. That cannot be allowed to take hold, now, can it?

Alison Banville is a campaigner on human rights, animal rights and environmental and political issues.

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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.