The old saw says its grim up North. Here in the North we don’t usually agree with that. However, events of the last couple of months are testing Northern stoicism and making us wonder if the words may carry some truth after all.
Apart from the relentless grim, grey weather that means most of Yorkshire would not now recognise the sun if it came up in the morning and slapped us in the face, the North is suffering under the weight of three Fs that could have a significant impact on the political landscape of the North at the next election.
Flooding has really taken its toll in the last couple of weeks. It is hardly surprising that politicians are blamed when promises of flood defences are only partially fulfilled, long term flood management strategies are non-existent, and the head of the Environment Agency only belatedly returns from his Caribbean holiday after leaving his agency to deal with some of the country’s worst flooding in decades and fails to explain what his agency is doing about it to flood-hit householders (echoing the inaction of his predecessor who failed to visit flood-hit Somerset last year).
On the final day of Parliament before the Christmas break the government announced (NB ‘announced’, not ‘debated’) that they had awarded 159 new Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs). The licences allow companies to explore for both conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, although in most areas it’s clear that most of these are intended for fracking of shale rock, or coal bed methane production (which is basically the same process, but in coal seams rather than shale). Yorkshire and Lancashire make up much of the areas affected.
Let there be no doubt about it: the tide of public opinion is turning against fracking, especially up here in the North, and if the Government persists it will get clobbered. Perhaps they already are: in a recent by-election in the Derwent Ward of Rydale, usually a safe Conservative seat, the Liberal candidate on an anti-fracking ticket ousted the Conservative candidate. It may only be a minor local by-election, but it shows that people are determined to vote out politicians that do not standing up to the threat of fracking in their areas – now most of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Fracking is becoming a huge political issue. It encompasses the preservation of wild and spectacular countryside of Yorkshire and Lancashire (I took the photo in June 13 from the top of Caulkley’s Bank, just 1 mile from one of Ryedale’s first two proposed fracking exploration sites), health, safety, the local economy, tourism and agriculture at the local and regional level. At the national level it is right up at the top of the global warming agenda and seems to run completely counter to COP21 (the Paris agreement). It is now becoming a matter of democracy with Northerners feeling trampled by an uncaring and unsympathetic Westminster Government dashing for gas (mainly to feed the energy hungry South).
Which takes us to the matter of funding, or the North South divide as many would see it. An issue that has been rumbling away for years, the floods triggered scathing editorials in the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Yorkshire Post, both commenting on how this would never have been allowed to happen in London and how the Prime Minister on his visit to flooded York mouthed platitudes, again.
The leader of Leeds Council, Judith Blake, said ‘I think we’re beginning to feel (the North South divide) very strongly. At that time there were other flooding events in the North that didn’t get anywhere near the support that we saw going into Somerset’.
’Natural Tories’ – a dying breed
I suppose I am a ‘natural Conservative’. I put a high value on freedom of opportunity, low taxes and an efficient market economy supported by a safety net for those who really need it. I come from a Conservative family that can boast a handful of centre right politicians, ministers and Prime Ministers. I would be ‘expected’ to be a life long Conservative voter that the party need not worry about. Indeed, in May last year I voted for Kevin Hollinrake, albeit through somewhat gritted teeth.
Not so next time, I am afraid, David. And if I am wavering then think how many others like me are also wavering. Time, I think, to sit up and listen, David, if you want your party to remain in power after you have gone.