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Fracking is in retreat; time to join the struggle

Recent days show that the establishment's fracking mania can be stopped by well-organised, well-meaning people, says Guy Shrubsole.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Margaret Mead’s pithy phrase has never rung more true than in the wake of yesterday’s stunning victory over fracking by the amazing community campaigners at Frack Free Lancashire.

The decision by Lancashire County Councillors to reject Cuadrilla’s bid to frack in the county, by a stunning nine votes to three, is testimony to four long years of campaigning by the community. That victory is down to wonderful people like Tina Louise Rothery, who raised up an army of ‘fracking Nanas’ to resist the depredations of the fracking firms. It’s down to people like Marie Taylor, whose home was devalued by the blight of fracking coming to Lancashire, but who refused to be cowed.

It is, in short, a victory for people power – a claim that these days is all too rare in a political culture dominated by insider lobbying, PR spin, sham consultations and ‘professionalised’ decision-making.

Let’s remind ourselves of the odds that were stacked against this victory. For the past four years, George Osborne’s Treasury has sought to tilt the playing field in fracking’s favour – in every way imaginable.

Osborne has lavished fracking firms with tax breaks. He’s talked up the potential for a ‘shale gas revolution’ at every stage, spreading false hopes that it is some panacea for our energy woes (all the while talking down renewables and undermining policies supporting them). He’s changed the planning system to allow fracking firms to trespass under homes to drill, weakened the regulatory regime, worked hand-in-glove with fracking firms. Lord Browne, chairman of Cuadrilla, sat at the heart of the Coalition government. Osborne’s father-in-law, Lord Howell, memorably advised him to frack the ‘desolate north’ rather than leafy Tory shires. The establishment, in other words, has done all it can to grease the wheels for the companies wanting fracking.

But all of that has come to naught. Because people have risen up and said no.

Saul Alinsky, one of the greatest of US community organisers, once wrote: “Power is derived from two main sources – money and people. ‘Have-nots’ must build power from flesh and blood.” That is what has happened with fracking. The same is happening with the fossil fuel divestment movement. The same was true of the anti-roads movement in the 1990s. Moneyed power can and has been defeated by movements wrought from flesh and blood, from the public organising to draw a line in the sand.

Anyone who cares about the future of the planet – and about the ability to change politics within a democracy – should take heart and draw inspiration from the battle against fracking in Lancashire. Today let’s celebrate. But tomorrow let’s take the fire lit in Lancashire and use it to light beacons in every community fighting to tackle climate change and see off the fossil fuel firms - across the country, across the world. The message is clear: we can win this.

Let’s join with the community of Ryedale in North Yorkshire, where Barclays Bank are funding fracking, to say: no fracking in Lancashire – no fracking anywhere.

Let’s join with the communities of South Wales in opposing opencast coal – building on their success last week in deferring a council decision on the proposed 6-million-tonne Nant Llesg coal mine, by rallying to support them on 5 August and help lock coal in the ground.

Let’s join with the communities around Heathrow and Gatwick airports, who face the imminent threat of runway expansion, and say: for the sake of people and the planet, no new runways here, nor anywhere.

The climate fight can be won by communities standing up to be counted. Fracking in Lancashire was a line in the sand. Together, we can draw a million lines in the sand on every fossil-fuel frontline. Because if the politicians won’t act, the people will.

Guy Shrubsole is energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

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Women's bodies should not be bargaining chips for the Tories and the DUP

Women in Northern Ireland have been told for too long that the Good Friday Agreement is too fragile to withstand debates about their reproductive rights

When Members of Parliament are asked to pass laws relating to when and whether women can terminate their pregnancies, women’s rights are rarely the focus of that decision-making process. You need only look at the way in which these votes are traditionally presented by party leaders and chief whips as “a matter of conscience” - the ultimate get-out for any MP who thinks their own value or belief system should get priority over women’s ability to have control over their bodies.

Today’s vote is no different. The excellent amendment that Labour MP Stella Creasy has put before the house reveals not just the inequalities experienced by women in different parts of the UK when it comes to being able to make decisions about their health, but also the latest layers of subterfuge and politicking around abortion. 

Creasy’s amendment seeks access to the NHS for women who travel to England and Wales from Northern Ireland seeking abortion. Right now women in Northern Ireland are pretty much denied abortion by legislative criteria that limits it to cases that will "preserve the life of the mother" - (that’s preserving, not prioritising) - and pregnancies under nine weeks and four days. Rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality are not included as grounds for termination. The thousands of women who thus travel to England are refused free abortions on the NHS - confirmed by a recent Supreme Court ruling - on the grounds that this is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland. 

The idea behind devolution is that power should be more evenly and fairly distributed. It is not intended to deprive people of rights but to ensure rights. In refusing to exercise the powers available to him, Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is rightly acknowledging a difficult history of power imbalance between Westminster and Stormont, but he is also ignoring a wider imbalance of power, between men and women.  

There is so very much wrong with this arrangement. But a further wrong could be done if, as reports suggest, the Conservative Party whips its MPs to vote the amendment down in order to protect the regressive alliance with the anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that is keeping their fragile minority government in power.

Instead of taking this opportunity to respond to the demands of women of Northern Ireland, this government is setting out the parameters of its complicity in refusing to listen to them. 

It is not the first time. In 2008 it was reported that the Labour party struck a deal with the DUP to leave Northern Ireland’s abortion laws intact, in exchange for their support over detaining terror suspects without charge for 42 days. Labour said at the time that it was concerned about the impact on existing UK abortion laws if the debate was opened.

But not one woman has equality until all women have equality. Women’s bodies are not chips to be bargained and we should not be bargaining for one group of women’s rights by surrendering the rights of another group. The UK parliament has responsibility for ensuring human rights in every part of the UK. Those include the rights of Northern Irish women.

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop playing politics with women’s lives. Women in Northern Ireland have been told for too long that the Good Friday Agreement is too fragile to withstand debates about their reproductive rights – a fragility that was dismissed by the Conservatives as they drew up a deal with one side of the power-sharing arrangement.

It’s time to confront the fact that nowhere in the United Kingdom – taking Northern Ireland as a starting point rather than an end in itself – do women enjoy free and legal access to abortion. Even the UK’s 1967 act is only a loophole that allows women to seek the approval of two doctors to circumvent an older law criminalising any woman who goes ahead with an abortion.

As long as our rights are subject to the approval of doctors, to technological developments, to decisions made in a parliament where men outnumber women by two to one, to public opinion polls, to peace agreements that prioritise one set of human rights over another – well, then they are not rights at all.

The Women’s Equality Party considers any attempt to curtail women’s reproductive rights an act of violence against them. This week in Northern Ireland we are meeting and listening to women’s organisations, led by our Belfast branch, to agree strategy for the first part of a much wider battle. It is time to write reproductive rights into the laws of every country. We have to be uncompromising in our demands for full rights and access to abortion in every part of the UK; for the choice of every woman to be realised.

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women's Equality Party.

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