Andy Burnham’s call for a moratorium on fracking may be welcomed in many areas, but it still makes him – and Labour – look like a follower rather than a leader.
Too many people will remember that Labour did not support a similar call for a moratorium in January, made by the Green Party and supported by the SNP (if This Writer recalls correctly – Labour was certainly hammered by SNP supporters afterwards).
Instead, Labour called on the Coalition Government to impose a series of regulations that effectively meant fracking would be delayed until after the general election – in the hope that the Tories and Liberal Democrats would be ousted and saner minds would prevail.
This blog supported that choice because it was the only way fracking in England would be halted in the short term; the moratorium plan would not have won support from Coalition MPs but the regulations did – from Tories and Lib Dems who feared reprisals from their constituents if they did not show some restraint.
But Labour did not win the general election – the Tories did – and now the fear is that fracking will go ahead unhindered.
In that context, is Burnham asking for too little, too late?
(Note: A huge amount of crude oil was discovered beneath the Surrey/Sussex border last October. One is moved to ask whether this huge find will be developed and how heavily it will inconvenience the Conservative voters who live above it.)
The former cabinet minister will become the most senior Westminster politician to warn that fracking could pose a danger to communities as licences are “handed out like confetti” on flimsy evidence.
The MP for the Greater Manchester seat of Leigh, who will outline his plans on Saturday at a leadership hustings organised by the Fabian Society, told the Guardian: “I was literally left open-mouthed two years ago when I realised there were about nine licences all over my constituency. Some of them are moving forward.
“These things just seem to be handed out like confetti. That made me really focus on the issue. In my area, we are riddled with mine shafts as a former mining area. Where is the evidence that it is safe to come and frack a place like this? No fracking should go ahead until we have much clearer evidence on the environmental impact.”
Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fracking isn’t about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.
Labour has tabled a legislative amendment to prevent fracking in the UK unless 13 outstanding loopholes in the regulation are closed.
The party first set out its conditions for fracking to take place in March 2012, but says the Government has repeatedly sidelined genuine and legitimate concerns, ignoring gaps in the regulatory framework.
“David Cameron has repeatedly ignored people’s genuine and legitimate environmental concerns over shale gas,” said shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint.
“Despite clear evidence that existing regulations for shale gas are not fit for purpose, the Government seems prepared to push ahead with fracking at any cost.
“While eight out of 10 homes still rely on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas we currently import and improving our energy security. But that potential benefit cannot come at the expense of robust environmental protections or our climate change commitments.”
Tom Greatrex MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister, added: “Labour have always said that shale gas extraction cannot go ahead unless there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
“The Tories have belatedly acknowledged that the current regulations are inadequate, conceding to Labour pressure for reform on a small number of issues. But these piecemeal concessions cannot overturn a Tory mindset which is zealously opposed to any further regulation of shale gas in the UK, despite clear evidence that this is necessary.
“There are significant concerns about independent inspection of well-integrity, fugitive emissions and protections for national parks. Labour will force a vote on Monday to prevent shale gas developments in the UK unless these loopholes are closed.”
The message is clear: Unless these dangerous loopholes are closed, Labour wants all plans for fracking in the UK to be abandoned.
This may not be as much as many anti-fracking campaigners wanted, but it is much more than the Coalition Government has offered – and offers a suggestion that Labour may move still further away from any support for the controversial mining method in the future.
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is bitter pill for anyone to swallow, if they have spent any time defending Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The partnership between the EU and the United States would open America to the kind of free trade deals that have been going on in Europe ever since the original Economic Community was formed – but there is a problem.
It isn’t a problem for businesses; they are in line to get a deal better than anything ever experienced in the world of trade. Citizens and national governments, on the other hand – you, me, and the people who represent us – will be railroaded.
This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’, which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments.
In other words, this could be the biggest threat to democracy since World War II.
In the UK, it could be used by shale mining companies to ensure that the government could not keep them out of protected areas, by banks fighting financial regulation, and by cigarette companies fighting the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes. How do we know? Because these things are already happening elsewhere in the world.
If a product had been banned by a country’s regulators, the manufacturer will be able to sue them, forcing that state to pay compensation or let the product in – even if this undermines health and safety laws in that country.
It seems that domestic courts are deemed likely to be biased or lack independence, but nobody has explained why they think the secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers will be impartial. Common sense says they’ll rule for the profit, every time.
Now ask yourself a question: Have you ever heard about this?
Chances are that you haven’t – unless you have read articles by George Monbiot (one in The Guardian this week prompted this piece) or have insider knowledge.
The European Commission has done its utmost to keep the issue from becoming public knowledge. Negotiations on the trade and investment partnership have involved 119 behind-closed-doors meetings with corporations and their lobbyists (please note that last point, all you supporters of the government’s so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill), and just eight with civil society groups. Now that concerned citizens have started to publicise the facts, the Commission has apparently worked out a way to calm us down with a “dedicated communications operation” to “manage stakeholders, social media and transparency” by claiming that the deal is about “delivering growth and jobs” and will not “undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment” – meaning it will do precisely the opposite.
Your Coalition government appears to be all for it. Kenneth Clarke reckons it is “Scrooge-like” to inflate concerns about investor protection and ignore the potential economic gains – but if the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is any yardstick, exports will drop and thousands of jobs will be lost.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has published an early day motion on the issue – signed by a total of seven fellow Parliamentarians so far.
Labour MEPs are doing their best to cut the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ out of the agreement, but they are fighting a lonely battle against the massed forces of greed.
So now ask yourself a second question: Why is the European Commission lying to Britain when we are already halfway out of the door?
Britain is not happy with the European Union or its place within that organisation. People think too much of their national sovereignty – their country’s freedom to do what it wants – is being stripped away by faceless bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of the population at heart. Now the European Commission is trying to foist this upon us.
For Eurosceptics in Parliament – of all political hues – this is a gift. For those of us who accept that we are better off in Europe – as it is currently constituted and without the new trade agreement – it is a poisoned pill.
Are we being pushed into a position where we have to choose between two evils that could have been avoided, if only our leaders had had an ounce of political will and an inch of backbone?
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