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The top 10 most desolate places in the north east

Lord Howell of Guildford has suggested the "desolate" north east would be the perfect place for fracking, and you can really see what he means.

The Conservative peer Baron Howell of Guildford, father-in-law to the Chancellor George Osborne, has made a strong case in favour of limiting shale gas fracking to "the large" and "desolate" areas of the UK. He suggested it would be "a mistake to think of and discuss fracking in terms of the whole of the United Kingdom in one go", suggesting the north east might be a reasonable possibility.

And you can see what he means. A nation's economy doesn't run on thin air after all. Somebody has to pay the price. Why not those feckless, scrounging wildings in the north east? They don't even like their surroundings, unlike those who recently put a stop to any suggestion of fracking in the home counties. I mean, just look at the desolation! How could they?

Yuk. Desolation near Bamburgh, Northumberland.

Boys, get your drills. The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Photograph: John Lord.

I can feel the bile rising. Alnmouth. Photograph: Andy Hawkins.

Everything the light touches is DESOLATE.

Why build a distinguished concert venue when you could have a nice hole in the ground? The Sage, Gateshead. Photograph: IntangibleArts.

The home of St Cuthbert, patron saint of the north of England. FRACKED. Photograph: Lee Bailey.

Preston Park, near Stockton-on-Tees. FRACK IT! Photograph: Justin Pickard.

This church was built on an original Roman shale gas mine. St Hilda's, Hartlepool. Photograph: Swalophoto.

Desolation by night. Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gateshead. Photograph: Gail Johnson.

Perhaps most offensive of all, the houses where those wretched northern sprites live. Robin Hood's Bay, North York Moors. Photograph: Arco Ardon.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.