Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Does the government need a way out on fracking?

On 21st March 2018, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham held his first Green Summit, where he announced his intention to make Manchester one of the greenest cities on the planet. Many fine words were said, but it's far too early to judge what actions they will result in.

However, in the evening Frack Free Greater Manchester held an anti-fracking fringe event to review the four years that had passed since IGas ended their initial search for shale gas at Barton Moss, Salford. About thirty people packed into a room at Central Methodists hall to hear the story of the opposition to fracking in the UK, and to plan the next moves in the campaign.

Helena Coates - Frack Free Greater Manchester

Helena, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss, said that when she first joined the protests, she did not think of herself as an environmentalist. But as she kept attending the slow walks, and saw how the protectors were policed, she started to make connections between the economics, the politics and the issues.

She said that she though out her campaigning against fracking, she has always been a mother and she ended her talk by reading from The Storm, by Kathy Henderson. A tale of a mother and son who survive a wild night on a barren coastline, it was a story of the power of nature, and about survival.

Eddie Thornton - Kirby Misperton Protection Camp 

Eddie was part of the campaign to stop Third Energy fracking at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering in North Yorkshire. The KM8 well looked like ot should have been the easiest place in the country for fracking to get going as it was on an existing industrial site, and a well had already been drilled for conventional gas in 2011 - although they had 'accidently' over-drilled by more than a kilometre. The gas would enter the grid by an existing pipeline and, despite 4000 letters of objection, against only 30 in support, the local authority had approved planning permission.

However things did not go smoothly for Third Energy. Frack Free Ryedale was set up round a kitchen table in 2014, and at the end of 2016 a protection camp was set up. Eddie described Christmas at the camp, which was still being built. As he and the other protectors huddled round candles in the cold, a procession of locals brought them Christmas dinner in stages, something which kept them going both "physically and spiritually".

Kirby Misperton is an area that is conservative with both a small and a large 'c'. However the campaign, led by the community and supported by the camp, soon started to attract support from people who did not usually embrace radical causes. Even the local bishop turned up. Third Energy and the police had a communication strategy that tried to divide the locals and the protectors, but the camp always had three people working with the press to counter this.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Development, could have
approved the fracking in October last year. However, as a result of the opposition, he got cold feet. This was to have catastrophic consequences for Third Energy.

In January 2018 the outsourcing giant Carillion collapsed. Third Energy's chairman, Keith Cochrane, was a former chief executive of Carillion, and this put the spotlight on the energy companies finances. Third Energy had filed their accounts four months late, but when they did it showed they had £52 million of debt, and only a few thousand pounds of assets.

Throughout the campaign in Ryedale, campaigners across the country had been targeting Barclays bank, Third Energy's main financial backers. faced with growing opposition, and Third Energy's collapsing business case, Barclays basically "pulled the plug on their finances". The government imposed a financial test on fracking companies, which Third Energy failed. They withdrew their rig and, despite promises to return in the autumn, it is almost certainly all over.

Eddie was clear what had happened: community resistance works. The companies, and their backers, know that opposition is growing. Even a large bank like Barclays cannot ignore this.

But Eddie also said he saw in their victory in North Yorkshire, a way that the national campaign can be won. The collapse of Third Energy's finances gave the government a "way out" of supporting fracking, without having to do a politically embarrassing U-turn, and Eddie hoped that the success at Kirby Misperton can be the model of how to defeat fracking in the rest of the country. INEOS, who plan to frack large parts of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, have a mountain of debt and their stock is effectively junk bonds. All it may take to end their threat is for the government to go over their books.

Maureen Mills - Frack Free Lancashire

"If you'd told me four years ago I'd be here with all of you now, I'd never have believed it," Maureen told the meeting.

The campaign in North Yorkshire may have been won, but in Lancashire it continues. Despite the planning inspector deciding it should not go ahead, the government is reopening the public enquiry into Cuadrilla Resources' application to frack at Roseacre Wood on 10 April. 

Of the different ways the campaign against fracking had developed, Maureen was particularly impressed by the contribution of the Trade Unions, especially the One Million Climate jobs pamphlet. "This is now a campaign for social justice." The way forward, she thought, was to "win the hearts and minds" of people.

Maureen said she can see the results of this tactic. "More people oppose fracking than support it". She said "I really feel the tide is turning," especially with people in Lancashire "now it's landing on their doorsteps." However she warned "the thing is sticking together, with a united resistance."

The success in North Yorkshire had left her "even more buoyed up". Like Third Energy, the companies that plan to frack Lancashire have "precious little money."

Maureen also said that Frack Free Lancashire would like to hold another rally in Manchester, like the United Against Fracking march in November 2016. The energy of that day had sustained campaigners through their year old protest at the gates of Cuadrilla's site.

"Let's do it again," she said.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Top 5 Brexit Movies

So we've voted to Take Back Control and Brexit Means Brexit, so us Remainers need to just sit back and respect the Will Of The People. But what should we watch whilst we're doing so? We're reassured that Brexit won't mean a 'Mad Max-style world from dystopian fiction', so that rules out that film then.

Instead, here are my top five other movies to Brexit to.

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

Grand Fenwick is an insignificant European country founded by a randy English knight on the way back from the Crusades, which is why the entire ruling class looks like Peter Sellers.

However, things aren't looking good for the country, as the entire economy is wiped out overnight by a cheap American version of their famous Pinot Grand Fenwick wine. The country is left with no choice but to go to war with the USA, and it's antiquated army sails off across the Atlantic armed with bows and arrows. Unfortunately, thanks to Grand Fenwick's acquisition of a weapon of mass destruction, they win, and then their problems really start.

Slightly dated, but still amusing, it shows the problems of a small country, led by inbreds, trying to punch above its weight on the world stage.

Passport to Pimplico (1949)

When the explosion of a Second World War bomb unearths a document that reveals that their London borough was ceded to the Duke of Burgundy in the fifteenth century, the newly independent citizens of Pimlico seize their new freedom with glee. The first thing they do is ditch is their British licensing laws, followed by their ration cards.

An gentle Ealing comedy that dreamed of an end to post-war austerity, the film is based on an incident during the war when Ottawa hospital was declared part of Holland for the birth of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. It also subtly references the situation of Berlin the previous year.

Unfortunately for the new Burgundians things don't go according to plan. Their deregulation leads to the borough being overrun with spivs and black marketeers, and an economic blockade cuts off all food and water. The new Burgundy finds itself diplomatically isolated and forced to rely on donations of food to survive.

In the end it is all sorted out amicably and everything works out for the best. Well, we can hope.

Carry On England (1976)

Of course in Brexit Britain there will be none of this political correctness nonsense. Men will be free to be sex pests and women will be free to do the dishes, just like it used to be.

Carry On films are a form of cinema marmite really. Shakespeare they are not, but in their time they were all right. Some were quite topical and some of the historicals; Carry on Henry, Carry on Clio and Carry On Up The Khyber, are actually all pretty good.

However by the time this film was made those glory days were long in the past. To watch Carry On England, which is something I've never manages to actually do, is to see the end of something that was never as good as it thought it was, and which was now totally unfunny and pointless. In fact the film was so bad it pretty much killed the entire franchise.

A perfect Brexit movie in other words.

V For Vendetta (2005) 

If it wasn't for the EU, of course, we wouldn't have nearly so many terrorists and other undesirables running around. Free from the shackles of the European Court of justice, the government will be free to deport, arrest, torture and spy on its citizens. Everyone will know their place and, if they don't you probably won't hear much more about them.

A few things happened to Alan Moore's eighties graphic novel in the twenty years it took to make it to the cinema, and not all of them were good. However, thing also happened in the real world to make Moore's paranoid vision even more believable, and the two more-or-less balance out.

In the film Britain is liberated by an anarchist with a large bomb and a Guy Fawkes mask.

Only in the movies I suspect.

The World's End (2013) 

When alcoholic waster Gary King drives his clapped out old Ford Cortina back to the town he grew up in, he finds the place almost unrecognisable. All the pubs are now chains, all the cars are now hybrids, all the people are now nice, and there's a modern art sculpture in the town centre. 

For the third of their 'Cornetto trilogy', Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright took on that most British of activities, the pub crawl. A story of a group of men trying, and ultimately failing, to put their misspent youth behind them, it is a terrific end to one of the funniest film trilogies ever. It's also a decade ahead of its time.

This is because, in the course of their binge drinking, King and his mates learn of a fiendish plan by do-gooders alien immigrants to try and civilise our backward planet. In a drunken showdown with the controlling intelligence, King and co manage to piss of the aliens so much they decide to leave Earth to it. Unfortunately when they go they take all their technology with them, and in the end Britain is reduced to desolate wasteland patrolled by marauding gangs, rather similar to a certain Mel Gibson movie in fact. 

Well, at least we've been reassured THAT won't happen. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Top Five Films About Eighties Britain

After the swinging sixties and the sad seventies, the selfish eighties is a decade best forgotten. At home Margaret Thatcher, egged on by Rupert Murdoch's gutter press, deployed a militarised police force to crush the miners and the Travellers. She rewarded the bankers, devastated the post-Industrial north and privatised anything that wasn't nailed down. Britain was a divided, racist, homophobic place in the 1980s, and by the end of the decade socialism, indeed society, seemed to be a thing of the past.

Or so it seemed at the time. But that's not how the decade looks now. The Iron Lady still has her fans, but never have her ideas been so unpopular. Who now thinks we should reward the bankers or privatise the public sector? Culturally, the right may have won the battle, but it seems to have lost the war, and the way the decade is remembered in film reflects that.

Here is my top five list of films that characterise the decade.

5. Billy Elliott (2000)

Even though it contains a song hoping for the death of Margaret Thatcher, I think I probably better just admit that Billy Elliott just isn't my type of film, which is why it's only at number five. It's not that it isn't well written, well acted and well made. It certainly is. It's not just that Billy's dad is shown as the sort of wife-beating, son-beating, ignorant, male working class stereotype that The Sun spent its time trying to cultivate. The problem is something else.

The very gritty politics of the era is realistically shown, and makes a very poignant background to the story. It's also completely clear which side of the political fence the film sits on. But keeping a political event of the magnitude of the Miners Strike in the background just doesn't seem right. Okay, it's not as bad as slavery being the background to a cheesy love story in Gone With The Wind, but almost. The happy ending, when a grown up Billy is seen on stage, should have been followed by a look at what was happening in Durham at the time: the unemployment, the drugs and the utter despair of anyone who lacks the skills to move to London.

4. Hidden Agenda 

Perhaps the most important thing about Hidden Agenda is that it relaunched the film career of Ken Loach. He'd put himself on the cultural map in the sixties with Cathy Come Home and Kes, but had spent the next twenty years making acclaimed, but largely ignored, documentaries. Hidden Agenda though started a run of amazing films that continues with Riff Raff, through Land and Freedom and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, to the best film of recent years, I, Daniel Blake.

If Billy Elliott shows the effect of Thatcherism at home, Hidden Agenda deals with the 'near abroad', the long running Troubles in Northern Ireland. We know now that the eighties were the time when the IRA was making the first moves towards peace, signals the British government either couldn't, or wouldn't, hear. Instead the Troubles in the eighties were a time of IRA insurgency and British government response, which allegedly included a policy of 'shoot to kill'.

Thatcher's Britain was always a secret state. From dirty tricks against real striking miners to the Chevaline and Zircon affairs, to Spycatcher and the Al Yamamah arms deal, there was a lot going on we didn't know about.  Hidden Agenda takes as its main inspiration John Stalker's investigation into the deaths of six Republican paramilitaries at the hands of the RUC Headquarters Mobile Support Unit, but then expands it into the area that is known collectively as the 'Colin Wallace affair'.

It's all very well done, very convincingly argued and, worryingly, very believable. 

3. Trainspotting (1996)

However most of the bad behaviour in the eighties didn't go on in secret, and most of the violence was not in  Northern Ireland. The real story of the decade is that of post-industrial decline and the retreat of the welfare state.

It's not completely clear if Trainspotting is a film about the eighties. The soundtrack certainly roots it in the dance and Britpop era of the nineties, but the book it was based on is very clearly set in the late eighties. The themes in the film, rising heroine use and fear of AIDS, against a background of unemployment and social decay, are also clearly those of the eighties. Indeed, the film is such a trawl though the decade's cliches, from skinheads with pit bulls in the park, to druggies nicking TVs off old people, that it's pretty close to being a parody.

However, just as it surfs the fine line between glamorising bad behaviour or making the main characters too obnoxious to be sympathetic, it gets away with it. We'd see a lot more of Danny Boyle over the next couple of decades, culminating in 2012 when, along with Trainspotting musical collaborators Underworld, he contrasted his nightmare vision of Britain in this film with a look at all that is best in out society in his London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

2. The Long Good Friday (1981)

Made in 1979, only a delay in release actually made this an eighties film at all. However when you look at what it is about, it's perhaps the most eighties film of all. Bob Hoskins is Harold Shand, a gangster who wants to turn his back on his Sweeney world of petty crime and go legit. His plans are a merger with bigger American outfit and, get this, rejuvenate London's docklands with a view to holding the Olympic Games there. Yes, this really was a 1979 film.

Of course the main reason to watch the film is to see Bob Hoskins spectacularly losing it, and the screen debut - in a non-speaking role - of Pierce Brosnan. He was playing an IRA assassin, which suggests a bit of a theme here.

1. Pride (2014)

So yes, the eighties were a very grim time indeed. Bigotry and intolerance, government malice and indifference, crime and social decay were all around. But there were also people doing something about it. And that's why this film is top of my list.

We'll forget about the fact that in real life the NUM  didn't actually refuse to accept Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners' donation. They couldn't accept it as their bank account had been frozen and so the group, like every other miners support group, was told to send their money straight to a mining community. There was also almost no prejudice from the miners when the activists eventually arrived in Dulais, but that wouldn't make such a great story so we'll forget about that too. Instead, let's just think how wonderful it is that a bunch of communists who wanted to overthrow the government had a mainstream film made about them, and that it was a stunning success.

They took a few liberties in making the film, but not very many. There is a documentary about the LGSM story, called Dancing in Dulais, and watching it after Pride you can tell exactly who is who, even if most of the actors don't look a bit like the people they were playing.

This is very much a film about activism and activists. The Miners Strike was a disaster for the Left, but as the amazing final scene shows, for activists what really matters is the solidarity. As the police officer says, the miners lost the battle, but as the end credits show the larger war was won: gay and lesbians won their civil rights. I didn't cry in Ghost or Titanic, and only a little bit in Notting Hill, but this scene always brings a tear to my eye: this scene and the one where Bronwen Lewis sings Bread and Roses. Yes, I'm blubbing just typing this. This is exactly what being an activist is all about.

And it's the activists who are now remembered. Looking back on the eighties, the Left lost the political battles, but in the long term we won the war. The man most people under 65 want to be the next Prime Minister spent the decade campaigning for the miners, for peace in Northern Ireland and gay rights. We may all live in the world Thatcher created, but nobody seems very keen on making a film to celebrate that.

Monday, 29 January 2018

The Hard Hat Riot: The Birth of 'Trumpism'?

American Carnage

On 8 May 1970 200 construction workers in New York City went on the rampage. They attacked students and anti-war protesters whilst the police looked on and did nothing. A little over two weeks later union leaders from the construction industry met President Nixon, gifting him a hard hat and promising him the support that would see him re-elected to office in 1972.

The 'Hard Hat Riot' is now largely forgotten, but it's hard not to see the parallels with today. A reactionary white working class had come onto the streets to violently oppose an unpatriotic 'liberal elite', and to lend their support to a corrupt, and soon to be impeached, right wing president.

So what was it all about?

Fire and Fury

On 30 April 1970 President Nixon had sent the South Vietnamese Army, backed by US air power, over the Vietnamese border into Cambodia.

The Vietnam War was already unpopular, and had already split America, but this escalation in the fighting galvanised the anti-war movement and sparked a new wave of protests. Amongst the campuses where activists mobilised was Kent State University in Ohio.

But Kent State wasn't Berkeley. It was a quiet sort of place and protests here had been peaceful affairs. However after rioting in downtown Kent following a demostration further protests were banned. The National Guard was called in, and 1000 soldiers put the university under military occupation. On 4 May students, joined by anti-war protesters from elsewhere, defied the ban. When the National Guard failed to get them to disperse, 28 guardsmen opened fire, killing four, leaving another paralysed for life, and wounding eight others.

John Filo's photograph of Mary Vecchio's scream, as she knelt next to the body of Jeffrey Miller, became the defining image of the day, and one of the most iconic of the entire era.

Very Fine People On Both Sides

The massacre shocked the nation, but perhaps not in the way you'd expect. True, the USA's only ever nation-wide student strike took place immediately afterwards, with four million students boycotting lessons. However a Gallup Poll revealed that only 11% of respondents blamed the National Guard for the deaths, and 58% blamed the students.

A huge anti-war rally was planned in New York for 9 May, and in the morning on the day before the about a thousand protesters gathered outside the stock exchange on Wall Street to mourn the dead students, and demand an end to the war.

Just before midday a couple of hundred construction workers carrying American flags turned up to heckle, soon joined by others. Many had armed themselves, and they soon broke through the half hearted police line and attacked the protesters. With the police doing nothing it was, rather bizarrely, stock exchange workers from Wall Street that tried to protect the students.

Susan Harman, then 29, tried save a student being attacked by three men, one armed with a pair of iron clippers, beating up one student. "Don't", she said. "Let go of my jacket, bitch" was the reply, followed by “If you want to be treated like an equal, we’ll treat you like one" and the three men beat her to the ground.

Soon the peaceful demo was scattered and the students were pursued down Wall Street by the hard hats. Anyone who looked like a hippy was attacked.

The mob then descended on City Hall, where the flag was flying at half mast in response to the
massacre. Construction workers broke in and raised it at its full height.

They spent the rest of the day causing mayhem in the local area. Trinity Church, which had become a makeshift field hospital, was attacked and a Red Cross flag torn down, possibly because someone thought it looked communist. Windows where smashed at Pace University. The final casualty toll was 70 injured, most of whom required hospital treatment.

The story was that working class patriots, outraged by the desecration of the flag and the lack of loyalty from middle class students, had decided to take matters into their own hands. The 'silent majority' had spoken out. Republican politicians, who had spent most of the last decade condemning student activism of any kind, spoke out to congratulate the hard hats.Vice-President Spiro Agnew sent a message to union leader Peter Brennan congratulating him on "the impressive display in patriotism–and a spirit of pride in country that seems to have become unfashionable in recent years."

Alternative Facts

But what was the truth?

Well, for a start the protest was certainly not spontaneous. The hard hats weren't AWOL from work for a start. They were encouraged to leave their sites by their shop stewards, and promised they would still be paid. Some were reportedly offered a bonus. One witness inside Wall Street claimed to have seen two men in suits organising the attacks.

However the workers don't appear to have needed asking twice, and enthusiastically got stuck into bashing the hippies. But did that mean the working class supported the war?

Well, some clearly did, but polls throughout the period consistently show support for the US intervention was highest amongst the top wage earners, the parents of the protesting students, and lowest amongst those who actually went to fight and die in Vietnam, the working class, including the white working class.

The anti-war movement was certainly started by middle class students, but by 1970 it was far broader than that. Students for a Democratic Society, the group behind the big rallies in Berkeley and elsewhere, had fallen apart in 1969. The face of protest in the seventies was as likely to be a veteran from the Bronx throwing his medals away as a hippy from Haight-Ashbury making the peace sign. 

Make America Great Again

But the Vietnam War was not the only drama in sixties America. Alongside ran the story of Civil
Rights movement.

The construction industry, heavily unionised and with relatively good pay and conditions, had traditionally been a whites-only job. However, in the 1960s this had changed. The parity index is a way of expressing the number of workers from a minority in a particular field with 100% meaning that the proportion was exactly the same as the general population. After a decade of affirmative action programs the parity index for construction work in New York in 1970 was 95%, meaning a very high level of integration.

However this had not gone down well with the unions. In March 1970 a proposal was put forward by Peter Brennan, President of the Construction Trades Council, that a separate apprenticeship centre be created for black workers, with the catch that neither Trade Union membership, nor a job, was on offer at the end of it. As a result of such intransigence, ten years after the Hard Hat Riot the parity index in the New York construction industry had fallen to 72%.

It is impossible to know how much, either consciously or unconsciously, race contributed to the events of 4 May 1970. But it looks likely that the riot was as much about defending white privilege at home as US imperialism abroad.

Violence On Many Sides

The events at City Hall were overshadowed the very next day by the arrival of 100,000 anti-war protesters. The events of Kent State shootings, plus the military failure of Nixon's invasion, had changed the nations view of the war, and for the first time more people opposed it than supported it. Three years later US troops would return home.

Before that happened Richard Nixon would be returned to the White House by a landslide. Nixon never had majority working class support. No modern Republican ever has, but with Republican voters remaining loyal even as crisis and scandal started to envelop him, even a small loss of traditional Democrat voters gave him the victory.

In the aftermath of the Hard Hat Riot, construction union leaders went to the White House and were warmly received. Peter Brennan became Nixon's Labor Secretary.

Fake News

The narrative of the Hard Hat Riot, of a white working class willing to fight for their country, and a
smug middle class who weren't, has certainly stuck. Just think of how Vietnam is portrayed in popular culture: Rambo is working class, 'Hawkeye' Pierce (literally in Korea, but metaphorically in Vietnam) is middle class.

But in real life it was the Donald Trumps of the world who supported Vietnam, whilst dodging the draft themselves on spurious grounds, and the likes of Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July) who opposed it. The student protesters, like the hard hatted rioters, were remarkable in that they acted out of character.

In the end though normal services were resumed. Brennan had to leave government after Watergate. He returned to his roll with the union, but the next Republican elected to President was not as kind to him as Nixon. Reagan's war on organised labour saw 100,000 non-unionised contractors enter the construction market.

America First

It's never worth wasting too much time going in debating the ideology of fascism. At its core fascism is just about defending privilege, but what makes a fascist different to a mere authoritarian is the use of violence.

Despite the many similarities, one thing that distinguishes Trump, and Nixon, from Hitler is they did not have an army of street thugs at their disposal.

However the Hard Hat Riot showed that such a force was there if Nixon had wanted to use it. Events in Charlottesberg show that Trump has such an army too. His refusal to condemn the murder of Heather Hayer shows he does not necesarily rule this out. If so, let's be quite clear what this would be: American fascism born, not on the 4th of July, but on 8th May 1970.

Construction Workers U.S.A. by Herbert A. Applebaum
The Seventies Unplugged by Gerrad DeGroot 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My Review of the Year 2017


The year began with a visit to Jodrell Bank, on the clearest of winter days. The children got to some science-y stuff, and I got to see the spot where the Fourth Doctor regenerated into the Fifth.

The search for life elsewhere in the universe was something that I would come back to later in the year, but mostly in 2017 I was trying to trying to preserve life on earth.

Family and work kept getting in the way, so I ended up binge-protesting when I got the chance. For example, on 20th January I manage to attend three protests in one day.

It had all started kicking off up in Lancashire, as Cuadrilla planned to be the first company to commercially frack in the UK. They started to constructing their site on Preston New Road, just outside Blackpool, and a daily protest started straight away. Initially, at least, it was fairly lightly policed. There was even an agreement that the protestors could stand for exactly twenty minutes in front of each convoy before it drove in. Save to say that didn't last long, but it was still all very civilised when I paid my first visit.

A bit nearer home, A E Yates of Bolton, who were the main contractors for Cuadrilla, were the scene of another protest. I dropped in on my way back from Preston New Road to lend a bit of moral support.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Trump had been elected. This was bad news for everyone, and there were protests around the world, including in Manchester where a thousand or so people decided to turn out on a cold January evening. I turned up too, for the third protest of the day. A personal record.

However fracking isn't the only, or even the most serious, threat to the climate. January ended with my bi-annual trip to see the students of the Manchester Metropolitan Sustainable Aviation course. Yes, that really is what it is called. Sustainable aviation, like miliary intelligence and Microsoft Works is, of course, an oxymoron, and I told the students that. As usual, they were attentive, bright and informed, but after I showed them the 'graph of doom', and they discussed what to do about it, which was tinkering with holding patterns and straightening trans-Atlantic routes.

Alas that is how most business people think about climate change. There is a vast chasm between problem and solution.


It was back to PNR again this month, as Cuadrilla's fracking site is now known. It was now business-as-usual with lock-ons and lorry surfing.

There's not a lot to do at a fracking site when a bunch of crusties have handcuffed themselves together across the gates, so I didn't do a lot.

Back in Manchester, Earth First! had their Winter Moot at Bridge 5 Mill, so I ambled along on the wettest day of the year to hang out with the anarchists. Apart from the usual debates about theory and practise, it was a chance to meet international Earth First!ers from the USA and Germany, which is always great. I learnt that's possible to sail to America on the ship that brings the EF! journals over, and that the campaign in the Hambach Forest is about as full-on as it gets.

I wanted to go there.


Instead I found myself hanging around car dealers in Greater Manchester.

March had brought better weather, and also a new Greenpeace campaign, banning diesel cars. With that in mind we went round adding health warnings so that these toxic monsters were at least correctly advertised.

I must admit, when when told last year that the objective was the banning of diesel cars as a prelude to ending the age of the internal combustion engine, I thought it was a little optimistic. However over the year it became an issue you couldn't get away from. Stickering car dealers was only the first phase, but it was so much fun we did it twice.


April started with the Manchester Save the Greenbelt rally. A busy international Greenpeace campaigning schedule usually meant we couldn't do much about local problems like this, so it was good to be able to lend a hand and give our long-suffering banner another airing.

The better weather also meant the Porter boys were off camping. We went to mystical Savernake Forest, home to some of the oldest and most interesting trees in England. The trees were still bare, but that made the forest by starlight a magical place, with the barking deer sounded like a troop of demented werewolves. However my boys preferred it when we spent the evening in the pubs of Marlborough, which are pretty good too.

In April Manchester Greenpeace started a collaboration with the ethical tech company Thoughtworks. We were invited to their office, up in the gods at City Tower, and they put on beer and pizza for us. We showed the film Disruption, made before the 2014 climate rallies. Afterwards I say a few words about what happened since, which is Paris and Trump basically. The first promises great things, but probably won't deliver. The second promises terrible things and probably will. It was a mixture of Greenpeace people and computer people, and we had a good discussion afterwards. At least these people got the scale of the problem.

I wanted to attend the Manchester March for Science, and both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were ready to help them out. Unfortunately the organisers decided we weren't welcome as they wanted a 'non-political' rally, so both groups did other things, and I went to see Robot Wars at Event City, which was science of a sort.

Also in April Manchester elected its first mayor. It was never in doubt that this would be ex-Labour Health Minister Andy Burnham, but what was heartening was that all four main candidates were against fracking, including the Tory. Despite this unanimity the environmental hustings was very interesting, as Burnham reiterated his opposition to fracking, and pledged a Green Summit in 2018.

I ended the month by camping in the woods under Kinder Downforce for Beltane with some of the Greenpeace team. One keen person decided to jog there over Kinder Scout from Glossop, and was guided down from the plateau to the campsite by torchlight. My camping gear consisted of a tent, a sleeping bag and a litre of Jack Daniels, which certainly made the night go with a swing. The weather was kind and a good time was had by all.


In May I mainly did nostalgia.

For the May Day Bank Holiday I had decided to organise a walk to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, which my grandfather went on. We'd planned it as a social for our Greenpeace group, but soon dozens, and eventually hundreds, of people said they were interested.

In the end just short of a hundred people turned up, and I led the walk despite a fairly major Jack Daniels related hangover. I was able, with a little help, to climb onto Benny Rothman's rock to address the crowd. It was an attempt to win back the memory of the trespass for the radical end of the protest movement, so we did a bit of Greenpeace campaigning on the side.

And radical protesting we carried on doing. Some of our supporters were unable to make the walk, as they were training for Greenpeace's contribution to the PNR lock-ons. I wasn't part of the team, but decided to turn up anyway. The practise paid off, and they deployed their yellow boxes across the entrance to the site in less than 90 seconds, right under the noses of the police put there to prevent lock-ons.

By the time I get arrive there is a row of familiar faces, all in their red hats, waiting in the sun for the Lancashire plod Protester Removal Team. They duly arrived, and described themselves as "very impressed" by the lock-ons. Eventually the first pair were cut free, and the others unlocked after that. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the police, who told as that usually they have "Aldi protesters" but today they had "Marks and Spencers".

The only downside of the day was that there had not been time for the team to deploy the really big banner they'd brought with them. As it really needed to be shown off a group of us went back the next week to give it a proper airing.

There was more nostalgia in May as well, as it was twenty years since my days as a tunneller trying to stop Runway 2 of Manchester Airport. I decided to organise a little reunion of old eco-warriors, and managed to persuade the BBC to turn up. In the end the weather was as wet as it had been in 1997, but a dozen or so middle aged radicals turned up. I managed to find an old tape player so we could listen to the album we recorded under the flightpath.

The BBC seemed reasonably pleased with the result, and gave us a prime slot on the local news.


In June we had a General Election. Initially my reaction was similar to Brenda from Bristol's, but once it got going the campaign was actually a lot of fun. In the High Peak we had a Progressive Alliance between the Green Party and Labour. This took a bit of arranging. but it meant I was out campaigning for Labour for the first time since 1997.

The whole mood of the country appeared to be changing. London-based pundits laughed at the Yougov poll that showed young people intended to vote heavily for Corbyn, and instead predicted 'strong and stable' May would walk it. However that was not our experience out an about.

Knocking on doors, many older voters, even ones who claimed to be lifelong Labour supporters, recycled the Daily Mail line that Corbyn was a commie and a terrorist, but in the pubs and clubs we were meeting young people who got their information from other sources. Never before have I been mobbed by teenagers on Glossop High Street just because I was carrying a Labour Party bag.

The result was a 14% swing to Labour and the election of Ruth George as the new MP for the area. Suddenly the future changed.


In July Manchester got itself a statue of Engels whilst Manchester Greenpeace got Spongebobs Squarepants. He was part of our campaign to stop oil drilling off the newly discovered reef at the mouth of the River Amazon. We took him out and about in a number of places, including to Manchester Pride.

If people don't destroy it this reef, at least, has a chance of surviving climate change, it was an important campaign to win. As the year ends we still can't be sure we've done that, but the signs look hopeful.

Also in July we had our second film showing with Thoughtworks. We watched Black Ice, the film about the Arctic 30. Phil-of-the-Arctic comes along, with the rest of the Greenpeace climb team in tow, to tell us about his experience, or at least about the less grim bits.


It was now time for a holiday, so the family were packed up we all headed north to Northumberland for a week of Roman remains, historic castles and beautiful beaches.

Then it was the Cropredy Festival, and a special 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention one. Pretty much every ex-member who could make it did, and it was a very special occasion. Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews recreating the very early Fairport, including their cover version of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne was a highlight, but there were plenty more.


Having ousted a useless and Tory and replaced him with a Trade Union campaigner, our Red and Green 'progressive alliance' held a meeting at Glossop Labour Club to decide what to do next.

As well as hearing from Ruth George herself, we ran a couple of workshops. The transport one led to some lively debate about the proposed bypass, but my talk on fracking in the energy workshop went down well, as does Matthew Patterson from Manchester University, Jonathan Atkinson from the Carbon Coop and Richard Body who talked about the Torrs Hydro project.

We ended by visiting the camp at George Street Woods, although the rain out paid the the idea for a picnic.


The Tory's were in town again in 2017. I guess they'd been hoping to celebrate their election victory and boast about the Norther Powerhouse, but instead they found themselves besieged in hostile territory arguing about why they 'lost' the election. Inside it was empty seats and recriminations. Outside it was a party.

I was part of the anti-fracking feeder march that joined the main anti-austerity demonstration. This ended in Piccadilly Gardens, after some careful navigation to avoid crashing into the anti-Brexit march going in the other direction. We had the extra-large Greenpeace banner, and we found we'd been placed behind the communists. Extra police had been drafted in, including some from Lancashire, who recognised the PNR lock-on team.

Back in Glossop I had to dust off some brain cells I'd not used for a while to give a talk about space exploration to the Glossop Guild. Apart from forgetting what the atmosphere of Mars was made of, I think I managed all right.

The Greenpeace group managed another trip up to Preston New Road again in October. Cuadrilla's site was more-or-less finished, and they had even managed to sneak a rig in in the middle of the night. However they weren't fracking, and we weren't sure why. The highlight of the day was the redoubtable Anne Power taking a stand and getting in the papers.

Plastic pollution, especially in the oceans, was a major issue that many environment groups started to seriously tackle in 2017, and Greenpeace was one of them. In Manchester we did our bit by fishing several bags worth of crap out of the Bridgewater Canal. A surprisingly large number of people turned out to help, but not too surprisingly we all ended up in the pub afterwards. Not surprisingly many of the plastic bottles had been made by Coca Cola.

The end of the month saw me down in Canonbury Villa for the annual Networker Coordinator's meeting. On the Saturday evening the warehouse was the scene of annual Networker Coordinator's piss up. By staying to the end and helping tidy up I earned myself some free beer, which meant the people I shared a room with had to put up with my snoring. It was the weekend the hour went back, but rather than have an extra hour in bed I spent the time in Tavistock Square trying to sober up enough to take part in the second day. Despite my self-inflicted problems it was an informative and inspiring weekend. The Antarctic is going to big next year.


The Greenpeace PNR lock-on people were in court in November, and so I went up to provide moral support. Their main legal rep. was Mike Schwarz of Bindman's, who helped get me acquitted in 2000. They were in good hands, but we expected a guilty verdict. Almost everyone else who'd locked-on had been convicted, and one judge had even questioned whether impoverished defendants should be allowed legal aid, so we weren't optimistic.

But how wrong we were! Judge Jeff Brailsford decided that what Greenpeace had done had been fully fair and proportionate and let them all off. The party afterwards was quite good fun I believe. I'd not been officially on the action, and just gatecrashed the event, but apparently I appeared on all the police videos. That's not really the way to do these things.

As a Greenpeaker I get to go out and about telling people about Greenpeace. Schools aren't my favourite places to do this, but Altringcham College's Year 10 students were good. Some of the teachers didn't exactly encourage an open debate, but they showed some interest in the story of the Arctic 30. If only Greenpeace was supported by some celebrities teenagers had actually heard of!

#HolidaysAreComing and other mindless hashtags told us that Christmas was on its way. Coca Cola claims it invented Christmas. It also claims to be environmentally friendly, but as we were fishing its bottles out of the canal last month we had our doubts.

In order to try to make them better we took to the streets get people sending them messages. It helped that Blue Planet II was on the telly, and some people made the connection between the billions of bottles coke makes every years and what David Attenborough was talking about.


By now the season of colds and NHS crises was upon us, and the campaigning season came to an end.

It's difficult claim the world was a better place than it was twelve months ago, but at least the resistance seems to be alive and well. There were certainly signs of hope: young people are both as liberal as ever but more politically engaged than before. They also seem to be able to filter out the fake news and actually user the internet to both learn about the world and change it.

The twin enfolding disasters of Trump and Brexit show that right wing Popularism is a political dead end. Fracking appears to be going nowhere and the campaigns against diesel cars and plastic pollution made great progress. However none of these problems actually went away, so it looks like we're going to have to do it all over again in 2018.

So love and peace to everyone who campaigned with me this year. Apologies I couldn't do more to help you.

Enjoy the party season. Next year we change the world.