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, things 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-gooder 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.