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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.

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform