Caroline Lucas arrested at anti-fracking protest in Balcombe

The Green MP says she has "tried to use the democratic processes...but the government isn't listening."

Green MP Caroline Lucas has just been arrested at the anti-fracking demonstration in Balcombe. The party's former leader was one of the final protesters left after police broke up the sit-in against energy firm Cuadrilla earlier today. Lucas, who was accompanied by her son, looked "visibly shaken" according to eyewitnesses.

Earlier today, police served a Public Order Act notice, stating that the crowd might cause serious damage to property or disrupt the life of the community. As she was removed, Lucas told reporters: "I have tried to use the democratic processes, I have tried to raise the issue through those democratic channels but the government isn't listening."  

In a statement, she said: 

Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come.

The evidence is clear that fracking and undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment.

People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us. I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen.

Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent. When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.

Green MP Caroline Lucas is led away by police after being arrested at an anti-fracking demonstration in Balcombe, west Sussex.
Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR