Ignorance is bliss – at least where our potential councillors are concerned

Yesterday we attended the event hosted by Frack Free Fylde at which prospective Lancashire County Councillors from Lytham were quizzed about fracking and their views on it by local people.

Well we say their “views”, but what was depressing and revealing was the lack of interest that most of them professed.

What follows is a personal reflection on what I heard and saw:

Conservative candidate, Tim Ashton appears to have been able to ignore all of the furore over the last year or so as he claimed almost total ignorance of the subject. This is surprising as he sits on Fylde Borough Council so he surely can’t be unaware of FBC’s Task & Finish report on Fracking, and I know he has received the Refracktion newsletter as I delivered it to his house personally. Whilst this “ignorance” might excuse him for not expressing a view, it would suggest a total failure, as councillor currently representing Lytham, to engage with one of the biggest issues which will impact his constituency. He’ll have to forgive me for wondering if his ignorance was real or feigned, as I refuse to believe he is as dim as all that. Cllr Ashton left after the discussions and before the meeting finished, probably secure in the knowledge that as a Conservative candidate in Lytham he doesn’t need to bother over much with such trivial matters to get elected.

Liberal Democrat Carol Gilligan gave a no nonsense more business-like impression, telling us that she was new to all this but wanted to learn, and she wanted to know more about fracking, a subject which she knew little about. I found it hard to credit that she then told us that she lived on Division Lane. If I lived a mile from the fracking well at Anna’s Road then I think I’d have made it my business to learn a little about what fracking is. Again, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that a claim not to know much about the subject was intended to deflect awkward questions about opinions and positions. Perhaps I am being unfair – she did seem genuinely interested and not a little shocked by what she learned. We will have to keep an eye on how her position develops should she get elected.

UKIP prospect Martin Bleeker looked more than a little uncomfortable when confronted with a table of voters. When asked what his position was, he said he was broadly for it because he’d attended a UKIP meeting where Cuadrilla and an anti-fracking group were supposed to debate, but the anti-frackers hadn’t turned up. As a result they only got one side of the story which “they had to believe”. As a result, he says, local UKIP policy is pro-fracking. To be fair to Mr Bleeker he did say at the end of the meeting that he felt his eyes had been opened and that he would go back to his local party and try to persuade them to look more deeply into the issue. We wish him luck. If local UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall is anything to go by he’ll have a thankless task. To give him his due at least he expressed a view, which is what I would expect a councillor to be prepared to do.

Labour candidate Marjorie (Janet) Sherwood had an easier ride. She has already gone public with her opposition to fracking so she was, to an extent, on home territory. She did speak knowledgeably on the topic and had clearly done her homework – The only one of tonight’s candidates to have done so it would appear. She seemed comfortable on the subject and her opposition to it was obviously genuine. It was a relief to see that there is at least some awareness of the issue amongst the candidates.

Finally, Irene Patterson for the Green Party came to speak to us. There is something about the local Green party which makes them a little hard to love. In a world where politics is spin we should all be refreshed to see a less polished presentational style and more substance. The problem last night was that Ms Patterson didn’t give us much of substance and appeared more keen to take credit for having introduce 20mph signs in Lancashire than discussing fracking (and there was me thinking we had Tim Ashton to thank for that particular waste of £9 million).

It is really quite amazing that not a single one of the candidates mentioned any knowledge of the motion that was unanimously passed by Lancashire County Council (to which they all hope to be elected) last December

Lancashire County Council recognises that:

The UK will face energy supply problems in the next few decades which are unlikely to be solved by current efforts to promote renewable sources of energy supply. Moreover, particularly in terms of security of gas supply, the UK is vulnerable to political actions in its sources of overseas supply.

It follows that new sources of energy supply that involve controversial technologies and methods should not be rejected out of hand but be subject to careful scrutiny and regulation. One such process is Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of shale type rock to release entrapped gas in commercial quantities.

Unfortunately there are no specific onshore exploration or extraction regulations for natural gas and the offshore regulations developed in the 1990s are not sufficient to address all the issues that arise from moving the process onshore especially in populated areas of Lancashire.

Lancashire County Council welcomes the new controls on seismic activity announced today, but calls on the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to introduce industry specific regulation of hydraulic fracturing for the UK shale gas industry and to ensure that there are regular on-site inspections by the regulatory body with rigorously enforced regulations and considerable sanctions should any breach of regulations take place. Such industry specific regulation must ensure that local planning control is maintained.

On the way out I heard one member of the audience saying “I despair. Is this what we have the choice of?” (I have edited out a couple of short anglo-saxon words there).

Maybe a bit strong but I do know what she meant.

Anyway, we hope that the candidates will keep in touch and find out more, even if not elected, because they live here and it affects them regardless of whether they end up representing us

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