Monday, 29 October 2018

FRACKING: No One Could Possibly Have Guessed This Would Happen...

Lancashire's future? Fracking has caused significant earthquake damage in the USA
 So tonight Cuadrilla have had to halt fracking operations at their Preston New Road site for the third time in two weeks after a third tremor abpve the 0.5 Richter scale trigger. The increase seems exponential - from 0.5 to 0.8 to 1.1 and while still relatively minor, their increasing power in such a short time has to be bad news for the shale-peddling carbonistas.

The area surrounding the site near Blackpool in Lancashire has seen 27 seismic events captured by the British Geological Survey in just 11 days. This compares to just two others in the entire rest of the UK over the same period - one in North Wales and one in the Norwegian Sea off the Shetlands. There were no seismic events in Lancashire in the 89 days prior to Cuadrilla commencing drilling.

While most of these are small, the incremental impact on the area if operations continue as planned for many years becomes sadly all too predicatble.

The only crumb of comfort in this could be that this litany of problems for Cuadrilla knocks future plans across the UK on the head and, quite aside from the appalling environmental impact of fracking, makes the whole project financially unviable for the profiteers who are prepared to sacrifice our country and planet for the sake of their bank balances.

Of course, the Greens and environmentalists who warned of this years ago, before fracking permits were opened up by the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey during the Coalition government, were denounced as hysterical fantasists and Luddites.

After all, who could possibly have guessed this would happen...?!

Source: British Geological Survey

Friday, 5 October 2018

Brexit Reality

The Brexit process is nearing its climax. With the Green Party conference meeting in Bristol this weekend, some thoughts on their and other Remainers' campaign for a second referendum on British membership of the European Union. Is focusing on a new vote detracting from at least mitigating the reality of the now inevitable post-Brexit Britain being fashioned by the Tories?

June 2018, and by 17,410,742 - the largest vote for anything ever recorded in the UK - to 16,141,241 the decision is to exit the European Union.

Except, the Leavers lied. Their voters were misled, under-educated, and, well, just bitter about life. They didn’t know what was good for them. They were angry or racist or dead, or all three. (“Dead” is not sarcasm – one Lib Dem would-be actuary got out the mortality tables and, projecting from exit polls, declared that the Leave majority would be mouldering in the grave within 3 years - a line Nick Clegg later took in a BBC interview).

The most appalling, elitist smears have been called down on Leave voters, making it pretty clear that liberal democracy has in fact sparse room for actual democracy. Not unserious demands for people over 65 to be disenfranchised feel like a precursor to a return to the second business vote, or the reintroduction of University MPs. Some Remainer memes and arguments have sought to count non-voters and even babies as anti-Brexit votes.The People have spoken, damn them – time to get a new People.

Claiming to speak for the 10% perhaps rather than the 1%, a lobby of liberal professionals who benefit quite nicely from the opportunities afforded by the EU are irate. Extremely so. Why should their parade be rained on by an unholy alliance of Left Behinders on their grotty northern housing estates and ageing, Daily Mail-chewing Blue Rinse Zombies down in Brexiteer Bournemouth?

A second referendum must be held. One to put things right.

Except that it wouldn’t put things right at all. Aside from the fact that the polls do not show any significant overall movement either way since 2016, what would a rerun do? 

A narrow Leave vote would probably engender a revived UKIP, or worse, and a hard Brexit would turn into tungsten one. A narrow Remain win would face calls for yet a further plebiscite for a “best of three”- and again revive Ukip, or worse, as many among the 52% concluded that voting truly is pointless. 

But, aside from anything else, a second vote isn’t going to happen. The Tories will not concede one and, in spite of the hype, no one is going to make them. No one can. Not even JC at his most miraculously messianic. 

Greens are making a terrible strategic mistake in expending our limited political capital running with Cable, his Lib Desperadoes and a coterie of washed-up Blairite chancers. If the Leave campaign excelled in “fake news” such as Turkey’s imminent relocation from Anatolia to Croydon, it is now well-matched by dire warnings that by April Britain will run out of everything from cream soda to donated sperm. Much smacks of the panicked Scottish unionists during the independence referendum wildly warning YES voters that Doctor Who wouldn’t be on the telly any more, while Nicola Sturgeon would be waiting at Gretna to check your car boot for anyone smuggling Tories across the border. 

And no one made any distinction between so-called "hard" and "soft" Brexits until after the referendum result. Nor did anyone talk about any confirmatory referendum - neither Cameron when he called the vote, nor Clegg when he called for a "straight in/out" referendum in 2008, nor the Greens' Caroline Lucas when she proposed an amendment to a Eurosceptic backbench referendum bill in 2011.

Don’t get me wrong: I campaigned and voted Remain. I was as disappointed by the result as most Remainers. My support though was very much about countering the rise of racism and more positively to fostering internationalism – but that particular ship has sailed. We need to work out now how to heal divisions and address the outcome rather than try to wish it away. Just as impeaching Trump would be the biggest shot in the arm American populists could dream for, our apparent rejection of the referendum only confirms rather than challenges the beliefs that led to the outcome in the first place.

The environmental benefits of EU membership are significant, but they can be over-stated, because the economics of Europe have long been definitively anti-environmental. The EU is one of the biggest free trade blocs in the world. How can such an institution fit with the urgent need to develop localised green economies and sharply reduce the transportation of “things” across our crisis-stricken planet? All the more so when its trade policies are so harshly biased against poorer states outside the Union - it is a longstanding ally of the austerity and privatisation restructure programmes of the IMF and World Bank, disrupting the ecologies of many African and other Third World states in the process.

We are warned that apocalyptic queues of trucks will form at Dover post-Brexit. Kent will become a giant lorry park. Bad stuff - but consider what all these hordes of huge carbon waggons are doing day in day out right now as they carry their cargoes from Tallinn to Truro.

In terms of social benefits, contrary to myth, the corporatist EU does not guarantee employment rights. Apart from the discrimination directives (which notably did not stop the Coalition introducing tribunal fees for discrimination cases at triple the norm), our employment protection regulations are almost entirely set domestically. The same goes for holidays, established by UK law in the 1930s and driven by trade unions, not by international capitalists. By contrast, the EU was content to exempt Britain from key parts of the working time regulations. 

Greens talk of reforming Europe – but there is no blueprint for that in existence. Nowhere in our policies is there anything beyond a bigger say for the Parliament in the workings of the Commission. While the hard work of Green MEPs from both the UK and other EU states on social protections must be lauded, the bottom line is that zero hours contracts and the gig economy, the housing crisis, NHS privatisation and near unprecedented social inequality have all prospered inside the EU. There may be no Lexit under Theresa May, but there is no Lemain either.

We have a historic opportunity and an urgent need to portray a post-Brexit Green society: to promote wealth redistribution, sustainable agriculture, co-operative enterprises, public ownership of clean energy and transport, and the re-industrialisation of our economy using small-scale, local enterprises to manufacture infinitely more of the goods we use. In other words, to provide an alternative to the dark future being fashioned by the Tories right now. 

Green MEPs have recognised that, while unwelcome of itself, Brexit could provide "transformative opportunities" for the UK economy.
"…we recognise that Brexit does provide some opportunities for radical change in the UK economy, for example in trade relations and expenditure on agriculture. The economic challenge of Brexit has shocked the government out of the policy of austerity and offers us important opportunities in terms of making significant and timely investments in the transition to the greener economy that climate change demands." (Greening Brexit, Molly Scott Cato et al, November 2016)

This rather than pushing ceaselessly for a second vote should be the cri de coeur for Greens and their allies. This can be the springboard of creating at least an awareness of an alternative Brexit reality to the chaos of May, Mogg and Johnson.

Brexit will be a huge challenge, no doubt. There will be significant disruption, especially in the first few months. But much, much worse is coming very soon in any case as the environmental and resource crises deepen rapidly across the entire planet. The challenge for us is to engage with the majority who have no real stake in our society because so much of it is being accumulated by an ever smaller elite. 

All the liberal arguments in the world do not even begin to address the day to day lives of most people, and do nothing to resolve the barriers so many face in our current economy - a process stretching back to almost the very time we joined Europe and so not surprisingly, nor entirely inaccurately, associated with it by many. Fail to do this and, like the Russian Kadets and Mensheviks in March 1917 who fussed over the legal theories and niceties of drafting new constitutions while the Bolsheviks won the hearts and minds of the people with their demands of "Peace, Bread and Land", the momentum will stay with those who seek the harshest Brexit of all and a dystopian society for our country.

Greens and others on the Left can squander this precious time tilting at referendum windmills. Or we can focus furiously on advocating for the social justice, environmental sustainability and economic resilience we need for civilised society to survive and thrive. The choice is ours.

A slightly shorter version of this article appears in the conference edition of the Green Left's "Watermelon" journal. This can also be found on the Green Left website. Please note that this article is a personal view and not GL policy.