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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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.