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10 November 2017

Police aggression can’t beat the moral force of the green movement

For the first time in my political career, I was shoved, dragged, and forcibly removed from a protest. 

By Jon Bartley

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the police getting more and more heavy handed on fracking protests, with the shoving, kettling and dragging of local residents becoming a strange new norm in sleepy towns across Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Still, it’s one thing to read and hear about it, and quite another thing to experience it for yourself. On Friday, for the first time in my political career, I found myself giving a speech in the centre of a kettle, before being shoved, dragged, and forcibly removed along with a number of other protesters. Clearly, we’ve got the fracking industry rattled.

I’m far from the first to experience police aggression at fracking protests. You may remember the recent story of Anne Power – an 85 year old who was dragged across a road by three police officers while protesting at a fracking site. Or perhaps you saw the incident of a woman who felt bullied for the unpardonable crime of serving tea to local residents exercising their right to peaceful protest.

As co-leader of the Green party, I joined local activists and residents to show our solidarity with the community, and peaceful opposition to this particularly dirty and dangerous form of fossil fuel extraction. If our government is serious about honouring the climate change commitments it made to the world as part of the Paris Agreement, then we can’t start churning up our countryside to try and wring every last drop of fossil fuel from the earth, no matter the cost to our water, our air and our climate.

Unsurprisingly, public support for fracking has gone into freefall, with public support hitting an absolute rock bottom of just 16 per cent over the summer. At the same time, we also saw the cost of wind energy collapse, and renewables breaking record after record after record. Not only do we not want fracking – we don’t need it. Our government needs to show the same political courage as Scotland and simply stop fracking. Sadly, we’re seeing the exact opposite at the moment.

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As I type these words, drills are poised to churn up the countryside of Ryedale, North Yorkshire, because our government looks likely to side with the companies who want to wreck our countryside and climate for the sake of a small short-term profit, rather than listen to local residents, scientific experts and the public at large. The council has approved the licence. Local residents have been notified. All that remains is for secretary of state Greg Clarke to give the thumbs up, and Third Energy can kick their reckless dash for gas into action. Now is the time to keep the pressure on.

Neither the government nor the fracking companies were expecting this level of public resistance, not just from dedicated green groups, but from wave after wave of local residents. People who have never been on a protest before in their lives are now climbing rigs, blocking roads and stopping lorries to protect their communities, their water, their climate, their local democracy and the natural world that they love.

The treatment we’ve received from the police in response is shameful, but heartening at the same time. It shows us that we’ve got the fracking industry on the ropes. They’ve lost the argument, and are resorting to the only tactic they have left – brute force. It will be no match for the moral force of our movement.