Nowhere is “Fracking Fine”

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Last month the UK government agreed to let companies drill underneath people’s homes for shale gas without the homeowners consent. 99% or respondents to a consultation on this disagreed with the move, but, as this is the sort of democracy we seem to live in nowadays, the government have gone ahead and acted in the best interests of big business anyway.

Why should we be worried, though? Is it really so bad? Are people just overreacting to something which will, in the long run, just create jobs and prosperity as it trundles relentlessly along?

That is certainly what the MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce thinks. He has recently written about how wonderful fracking will be for his constituency. Dart are currently planning on drilling in nearby Airth, with the extracted shale gas being processed by the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth. An estimated 5000 jobs could be created. What’s not to like?

Well, plenty don’t like it. Joyce, however, dismisses the concerns out of hand,

” The anti-science of the anti-fracking movement is a minority self-indulgence. But the shocking anti-jobs rhetoric of Unite, the SNP and the small number of local nimbys who seem determined to talk down the value of their own homes is profoundly dangerous for Falkirk’s strong manufacturing base and the many, many jobs which go with it. They should pack it in.”

Wow! Anti-science, anti-jobs and a small number of local NIMBYs! That’s fightin’ talk there, Eric! You sure that all of fracking’s opponents are just self-interested whingers who can be fobbed off like this?

Let’s look at some of the arguments against fracking, which (as well as some others) can be found in This document on the Green Party of England and Wales’ website.

Pollution: This drilling happens below the water table and there is evidence of a serious risk of pollution of our water supplies by methane, heavy metals, radioactive elements and carcinogenic materials from leaking wells. This is on top of the possibility of air and noise pollution and threat to local wildlife caused by the drilling installations.

Damage to the local communities: Pollution to groundwater causing illness, deformities and stillbirth within local wildlife is pretty horrendous. Yes, it has also been known to negatively affect house prices too, which, despite Mr Joyce’s dismissal, is damaging to local households and the local economy. The amount of water needed for fracking has also seen supplies run dry in some American communities, which is just one more nail in the coffin for some already stretched farms.

Climate incompatibility: We have targets towards lowering carbon emissions by reducing the burning of fossil fuels. One sure fire way not to do this is by extracting and burning more fossil fuels. Our air is being polluted and choked enough without us actually adding to it. Jobs won’t help you if you can’t breathe. In fact, increasing investment in shale gas extraction could cost up to an estimated 40000 jobs in the renewable energy industry.

Damaging the ground beneath our feet: Not in the Green Party document, but still a concern. Expanding small fissures by blasting high powered water down them weakens the rock and, subsequently, the foundations under our homes. There have already been cases of minor earthquakes in Lancashire linked to fracking. Mr Joyce argues in a comment on the post that some of the ground in the Falkirk area is literally undermined already – so why weaken it further?!

Yes, fracking may create jobs in the areas in which it occurs, but at what cost? And, if you are going to argue in its favour, why be so disingenuous towards its opponents?

“The shocking anti-jobs rhetoric of Unite” he talks of links to this post on the Green Left blog. The only mention of jobs by Unite on that is where they urge their members not to take jobs in the fracking industry. That’s not anti-jobs, it’s a principled stance. You know, Eric? Principles?

Later in that same post we read this,

” Peter Murry The Green Party Trade Union sends it’s congratulations ad support to Unite in taking a principled stand against the stupid and harmful practice of fracking. If fracking can be stopped and jobs created in converting the infrastructure to one based on renewables then Unite’s stance could lead to job creation.”

Wait! So this “anti-jobs rhetoric” could lead to job creation? Well, if the investment in fracking is redirected to renewable energy, then yes. Not only creating jobs, but long-term sustainable jobs which will not disappear when the gas runs out.

As for the NIMBY accusations, well he links to Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas, a local organisation of residents who object to fracking for all of the reasons above (not just house prices!). Yes, they are a small group and yes, they are campaigning specifically about Falkirk. How about the thousands who have signed petitions with Greenpeace, 38 Degrees, The Green Party, Friends Of The Earth or the Government’s own epetition site? Literally tens of thousands who aren’t campaigning about fracking in Falkirk, but in the whole country. NIMBY stands for not in my back yard. We don’t want fracking in anybody’s back yard.

Democracy is in a desperate enough state when the government of the day removes your right to object to major operations happening in your community and under your own home, but when your own elected representatives (and I am one of his constituents) refuses to reasonably engage with people he disagrees with and resorts to name calling and baseless accusations then we are in real trouble.

This is why we need real change in this country. It’s why our systems are broken. It’s why I’m happy I’m getting a new MP next year. It’s why I joined the Scottish Greens last month. It’s why an increasing amount of people are standing up and refusing to let the political classes have it all their own way any more.

It starts with fracking, but it won’t end there.

Update (19/10/2014): The article below appeared in the local paper the Falkirk Herald. As you can see, Eric Joyce is still trotting out the NIMBY line and saying that those who disagree with him should shut up. An incredible lack of respect for open and democratic debate and discussion from the soon to be ex-MP.
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UKIP – Working class heroes?

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So, there you go. From the keyboard of UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn comes confirmation that his party are “the party of the working class now”. Labour, as most of us have known for some time now, have moved their focus onto that tabloid favourite, “Middle Britain”, and have left a void which UKIP now claim to inhabit.

But how have they done this? What issues have they addressed to make this claim to speak for the working classes? Well, surely the best place to look is the issues section of their website. After all, this will really show us what the party stand for and how they have grabbed the working class vote. Let’s have a look and discover their recipe for success, shall we?

They start with a general section about patriotism, sovereignty and “getting control of our borders”, all of which can, of course, be solved instantly by leaving the EU. This section doesn’t actually state how it’ll do that, so we need to read further to get to the really good stuff.

” A vote for UKIP is a vote to leave the EU and recover power over our national life.”

Right, so UKIP will pull us out of the EU, then? Despite their leaders constant pronouncements that they are the only party who will give us an in/out referendum (ignoring the Conservatives, Green Party and even the BNP saying that they all would)? So, is there a referendum or not? Unless they think that simply voting UKIP means you are voting to leave the EU (which would be like saying that a vote for the SNP means you want Scottish independence, which didn’t show to be totally true) then they are either promising a refendum, which won’t guarantee leaving the EU, or they will pull us out without asking us first. They’re either lying or they’re lying. Good start.

“Free trade, but not political union, with our European neighbours. We are the EU’s largest export market: they depend on us for jobs – not the other way around.”

Well, that last statement is an incredibly bold claim. There are an estimated three million jobs in the UK either directly or indirectly linked to exports to the EU. It’s impossible to say how many of these may be lost by leaving the EU, but to state that we don’t rely on them for jobs is utterly baseless. That’s before we even start on the 2.2 million UK nationals living in the EU. How would their residencies and, by extension jobs, be affected by pulling out? It’s a sweeping claim UKIP make which sounds punchy, but is hard to back up.

“Immigrants must financially support themselves and their dependents for 5 years. This means private health insurance (except emergency medical care), private education and private housing – they should pay into the pot before they take out of it.”

Let me put that another way. We will let people move to the UK from abroad, as long as they meet, as yet undefined, criteria to demonstrate that they will bring necessary skills, meaning that they will be contributing to both tax and National Insurance from day one. However, we will deny them access to any of the services their money is paying for for the first five years simply because they are not British. Nope, that doesn’t sound remotely unfair or xenophobic to me!!

” Proof of private health insurance must be a precondition for immigrants and tourists to enter the UK.”

Firstly, many countries do not have a need for you to have private medical insurance,  so many who come here “with the right set of skills” would automatically be disqualified by this. Secondly, private medical insurance is beyond the reach of most people in this country, so what is being proposed is only allowing already fairly wealthy,  probably upper middle class people into the UK. And, it’ll only be from relatively wealthy countries as many professions pay considerably more here than in, say, eastern Europe or Africa. An elitist policy only allowing a certain class of person from a certain class of country. But then, as Nigel Farage said when discussing Germany versus Romanian immigrants, “you know the difference”.

Not just immigrants, though. Tourists as well! One of the UK’s biggest industry is foreign tourism and UKIP are proposing strict conditions on who we allow into the country for a holiday! I can’t see that going down too well in tourist resorts such as Clacton, with its newly-elected UKIP MP.

Save £55m a day in membership fees by leaving the EU and give British workers first crack at the 800,000 jobs we currently advertise to EU workers.”

How much? £55 million per day? Well, that is possibly the gross figure, however it doesn’t come close to that amount when you factor in the money we get back from the EU in subsidies etc. After that, the figure is closer to £24 million, and that’s before we talk about the indirect benefit to the UK economy of being part of the free trade agreement with the rest of the EU. Yes, it still costs us, but if ukip can’t even be trusted to get their figures right then there’s a problem.

” Scrap HS2, all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies.”

Woah there, tiger! I’ve no problem with the HS2 policy, but scrapping green taxes and wind turbine subsidies? We are already too reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, so UKIP, in their wisdom, want to take away initiatives aimed at increasing our use of clean, renewable energy sources. Then again, for a party with a history of climate change denial I guess this shouldn’t be a shock.

“Develop shale gas to reduce energy bills and free us from dependence on foreign oil and gas – place the tax revenues into a British Sovereign Wealth Fund.”

So, the idea is to reduce the amount of renewable initiatives and to replace them with fracking. Because, apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to replace one fossil fuel which requires drilling under the ground and nets millions for large corporations with another, only one which may also pollute our water supplies to boot.

“UKIP will abolish inheritance tax. Inheritance tax brings in under £4bn – less than a third of what we spend on foreign aid. The super-rich avoid it, while modest property owners get caught by it. It hits people during a time of grief and UKIP will budget in its 2015 spending plans to completely abolish this unfair death tax.”

The only mention of tax, other than the surprisingly reasonable policy of scrapping income tax on the minimum wage, is one which will, yet again, please the upper middle classes rather than the working classes. All those between minimum wage earners and the upper middle classes get precisely nothing. All those people that UKIP are now the party of are ignored where tax is concerned.

” Make cuts to foreign aid that are real and rigorous.”

Because all those foreigners can fend for themselves. Why should the UK, who built our economic position historically on stripping the poorer nations of natural and human resources whilst giving little or nothing back, help people who are in dire poverty due to our centuries of economic and foreign policy? Why should we try to help our fellow human being if they happen not to come from our small island? Why should we show basic compassion? Horrible, lefty idea.

” No votes for prisoners – that’s what losing your liberty means.”

They already have no vote!

” Scrap the European Arrest Warrant, which sends British citizens to foreign jails without evidence, just to answer questions – replace it with a proper extradition system.”

I can’t wait for the joy the first time we can’t get a foreign national accused of a crime here sent to the UK because there is no longer a European Arrest Warrant. It’s not my favourite legal mechanism, but the wording here suggests one way traffic against poor, innocent, decent British people, sent to dirty, evil foreign jails.

” Remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Or, remove the main external control over the UK government where human rights are concerned. Unlike the Tories’ recent announcement, UKIP do not propose a replacement for the European Convention on Human Rights, which we would need to withdraw from in order to withdraw from the court.

” Prioritise social housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born locally.”

Hands up all those who no longer live anywhere near their parents’ birthplace. Yes, lots of us. My Mum was born in Tilbury and my Dad in Rugby. I now live in Falkirk. Oh dear! And, as my parents were in the RAF, I was born in Germany. So, how does that all work for me or my kids if any of us fall on hard times and need to go for social housing? Horrendously ill-thought out crap!

” Allow the creation of new grammar schools.”

Why? No, really, why? No benefits given. No expansion on it. Just creating new grammar schools. Give us a reason!

” Make welfare a safety net for the needy, not a bed for the lazy. Benefits only available to those who have lived here for over 5 years.”

Ah yes! The old ‘attack the welfare claimants’ line again. With no other identifiable policy other than one which erroneously suggests that the main issue is with, you guessed it, immigrants. Like a stuck record, only with no actual tune.

” No to Political Correctness – it stifles free speech.”

This is not a policy, it’s a populist soundbite. It tells you nothing. What is their definition of political correctness? How will there be “no more” of it? How does it “stifle free speech”? Does banning it stifle free speech itself? Why is being respectful to all, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion or sexuality so bad? As I said, this says nothing at all about the means or ends. It’s purely weasel words from a bunch of weasels.

” The law of the land must apply to us all. We oppose any other system of law.”

It already does! What on earth is the point of this? Well, it’s that old tabloid fear of Sharia Law being combatted, despite it not being formally observed in the UK and the fact that UK (or Scottish) law applies to everybody!!

” Teach children positive messages and pride in their country. We want to unite through better integration.”

Again, how? And why? Is this meant to educate people’s culture of origin out of them? Are schools going to ignore the more shameful episodes in British history? This is propaganda being brought into our schools, plain and simple, and it is rather terrifying that it is the sort of thing which people buy into without thinking of the implications of it.

” UKIP is a patriotic party that believes in putting Britain first. Only UKIP will return self-government to the British people.”

This is the final line of the page, but what does it mean? Basically, isolation, xenophobia, propaganda, lies, empty promises, perks for the upper middle classes and big business, destruction of the environment, elitism and the destruction of the tourism industry.

That, it seems, is how UKIP speak for the working classes. Nothing on education, poverty, local investment, public transport, child care, cost of living, fair wages, benefits for working people or many of the other issues affecting real people. In other words, they don’t speak for working people. They speak for themselves and their own self interests.

I’ll leave you with these words from Michael Rosen and a plea to wake up and recognise these people for what they really are.

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A post for World Mental Health Day

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Today is World Mental Health Day (as you can tell by the picture above, I guess). Now, I am far from an expert on these things. Apart from my own depression and anxiety which, as I have said before, are relatively mild, I have no real experience of mental illness.

However, there are a few things I do know. There are things which are very common misconceptions regarding mental illness which I see and hear said a lot. In fact I have, in the past, said some of these myself. We all need to realise, though, that these things really are not true.

Depression is not when you feel a bit sad. Depression is a void which can get so bad that it is not just mental, but physical in its effects. It destroys all joy, hope, happiness, confidence and self-esteem. It is literally soul-destroying and so much more than just sadness.

Anxiety is not when you can’t handle stress. Anxiety is a crippling illness which makes certain situations, or life itself, pretty much impossible to cope with as you battle with horrific fear, stress, palpitations and panic attacks for no reason other than being ill.

Schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder. When someone says that they’re a bit schizophrenic, they think they are saying that their personality changes a bit from time to time. What they’re actually saying is that they hear voices in their head, constantly compelling them to harm themselves or others, that everybody is trying to kill them, that the world itself is evil. They are saying that they suffer hallucinations and are utterly detached from reality.

OCD is not where you have to straighten pictures, alphebatise your tins and wash your hands a lot. You feel the need to go through certain rituals because,  if you don’t,  you truly believe that awful things will happen. People’s wellbeing or lives depend on it. It is a disorder which compels you to do things because you are utterly obsessed.  The clue is in the name. And it is Hell for those who have it.

As I said, I’m not an expert. Some of what I’ve written comes from personal experience, some from what I’ve read of the experiences of others. The point of this is that we all have a great deal to learn when it comes to mental illness. There is so much misinformation and myth surrounding it that it leads to a lack of understanding.  That lack of understanding leads, in turn, to the stigma which is still very much attached to all forms of mental illness. So, we need to talk about it, read about it and listen to people who are living through it in the same way we would with physical illness.

That’s why I’ve written about my own depression. Not to gain sympathy, but to encourage openness and discussion about the issue. We need to get past the fear of talking about mental illness, whether we have it or not. It’s not shameful in any way, it’s just illness. Let’s all fight it and understand together.

How not to win an election

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It takes some doing to have an MP elected to the House of Commons from outside the main three parties, especially in England. So when a party gets its first MP elected it is a matter of congratulations.

To position your policies outside of the centre-right ground, despite that being the accepted ingredient for success over the last 35 years, and to start seeing electoral gains is amazing.

To actually challenge the historic position of the Lib Dems in opinion polls from virtually nowhere takes some doing.

To gain popularity despite being totally outside the established elite is impressive. After all, those social and professional connections usually required to get the necessary financial and PR backing is missing.

To speak to an increasing number of people and see a dramatic upsurge in membership, despite having next to no attention given to you by the mainstream media speaks volumes for how your policies resonate with so many ordinary voters.

So, a belated congratulations to the Green Party for gaining their first MP, Caroline Lucas, at the last General Election. To almost no fanfare, coverage, discussion as to how it happened or over the top media love-in whatsoever.

In other news, I see UKIP finally have an MP now after a disproportionate amount of mainstream media coverage, almost omnipresence of Nigel Farage, millions if pounds worth of donations by well connected ex-Tory backers and getting a Conservative MP to defect and defend his seat. I mean, it wasn’t so much won as handed to them on a plate, but we’ll done anyway, UKIP. You needed help from the Westminster elite you claim not to be a part of to get there, but you did it.