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Lord Howell offends the North of England again — but does he have a point?

14 May 2014

10:14 AM

14 May 2014

10:14 AM

Oh Lord Howell, you’ve done it again. Offending the North of England once wasn’t enough, so he’s had a second go — warning today that the Conservative party will lose votes in their heartlands if fracking goes ahead. In an online article for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, George Osborne’s father-in-law lambasts the government’s fracking plans:

‘Trying to start in southern England, and in the home counties, or in rural and countryside areas anywhere, north or south, is a guarantee of longer delays, higher costs and increased hostility from both green left and countryside right.

‘Every time ministers open their mouths to claim that fracking must start everywhere around Britain, and not just in carefully selected and remote (derelict) areas, they lose thousands of Tory votes.

‘In the northeast, the northwest and all the places where the Industrial Revolution has left the worst historical scars they do have just such areas, they have the gas and they have the local wish to see fracking investment’

And just to remind those in the North that properties in the South East are far more valuable, Howell also says it is pointless bribing rural communities to accept fracking:

‘Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale. Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them.’


For the Tories, comments such as these are extremely unhelpful and reopen the debate about the North-South divide and whether they care about the region at all. Although Howell’s remarks are politically ill-advised, he does have a point. The North of England has yet to recover from the significant levels of deindustrialization that occurred during the late twentieth century — coal, ships, and steel industries have pretty much all disappeared, but not a huge amount has replaced them. Today’s unemployment figures highlight the region’s problems; the North East is the only area of the UK that has seen unemployment rise to 135,000:

Investment in fracking is a huge new potential stream of money and jobs for the region. As with any form of energy production, there will be environmental costs but it should be up to regions to decide whether they want the benefits. Look at this interactive map to see all of the potential areas in the NE under consideration for fracking:

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Show comments
  • Raddiy

    As a northerner, I’ll quite happily take all the fracking going, as long as the North keeps all the Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT) raised from it, to spend on our infrastructure and development. We have already been taken for a bunch of mugs since the 70’s by watching the Northern English North Sea Oil and Gas revenues, and those from the Morecombe Bay gas fields syphoned off for the benefit of London based mega projects, with a few scraps thrown back at the rest of us.

    If it is Scotland’s OIl, then it is also England’s Gas and the revenues should stay in the areas the gas is fracked from, and not end up building yet another Crossrail in London.

    There, sorted out the problem, everybody will now want fracking, although I would imagine if London can’t rape the rest of the country for its resources it probably won’t be quite such an interesting prospect for the political establishment to persue.

    • Jambo25

      Why do you think there is such resentment up here and not just amongst independentistas about what happened to Scottish oil revenues? We now know that several authoritative reports outlining the realities of the revenue streams from the oil boom and what should be done with them were suppressed by various governments of both Labour and Conservative hue. The money was used to help fund various schemes which largely led to the unsustainable booms of the 80s and later. Be perfectly clear that if people in the North allow large scale fracking in places like Bowland and the North York Moors to spoil classic landscapes then the main financial benefit will not go to the North but to London (Particularly the City.) and South.

      • Raddiy

        I am old enough and ugly enough to know exactly what will happen to the PRT etc, I am also under no illusions that it will be syphoned off into growth and expansion into the London money pit.

        If anything the Northern English have far more to complain about with regard to public investment from PRT than Scotland. Whether Scotland has had the full value re-invested is a moot point, it has certainly has had far more of its oil wealth returned in funding through Barnett etc over the last 40 years than the North East has had. A perfect example of that is the 3 lane motorway from Gretna to Glasgow that for most of its length could be used as a car park most of the time, whilst the North East is still not connected to the national motorway network.

        I was being sarcastic, but if the sum of the revenue was spent in the region it was extracted from, then at least it would offset the process itself. We are not going to see a return to the extraction processes of the past, nobody would want it or allow it, but we also have to live in the real world.

        The ‘ classic’ landscape of the North York Moors is not some pristine untouched primeval landscape, it is the result of massive exploitation by man over millenia, with the extraction of ironstone, limestone, alum, potash, jet taking place on a monumental scale within the last 100 years ago, yet there remains have nearly all melted back into the landscape. Nature has a clever technique of making our efforts insignificant in the greater scheme of things, and fracking will be no different. Better fracking than having our classic landscapes bespoiled by row upon row of intrusive useless wind turbines.

        • Jambo25

          I really don’t disagree with any of what you write as regards Scotland doing rather better than the North of England over the past few decades but that isn’t a very high bar to set. The real question is who got most out of North Sea oil revenues and it wasn’t Scotland with or without Barnett

          • Raddiy

            I don’t think we are that different in our thinking, other than perhaps the way forward. We are never going to see a return to the extraction processes of the past in any shape or form, that is self evident, but neither can we ignore the natural resources that lie beneath our feet.

            I would suggest it is not an either or option.

            The real question is where the money goes. Norway has a sovereign wealth fund that it is anticipated will be worth $1Trillion by 2020, North Sea Oil revenue invested for the future welfare of the Norwegian population, whilst our lot spent it as fast as it came in, and I can’t see that ending anytime soon, either North or South of the border. Mr Salmond seems to have budgeted it to pay for everything that an independent Scotland needs for ever.

            Yes it is the preserve of Westminster, a Westminster that is currently a democratic desert as far as England is concerned, and the first way to redress that is to remove the Scottish MP’s who vote on laws for England, laws that don’t impact on their own constituents.

            The parties over as far as I’m concerned, it’s been nice knowing you, but we have little in common anymore. certainly not politically, so the sooner you go and do what you want to do, and that applies to the Welsh and Northern Irish as well, the sooner we can reclaim our own democracy and start looking after our own interests.

  • AlbertNW

    Can you imagine how Howell’s asinine and geographically illiterate comments play in currently Tory and predominantly rural constituencies that sit squarely on top of the Bowland shale? Morecambe & Lunesdale, Lancaster and Fleetwood, Wyre & preston North, Skipton, Ribble Valley. Many marginal. Steerpike’s comments about the North East under a map rather firmly showing that the fracking sites are in the North West and in Yorkshire just goes to show why northern Conservatives feel desperate about how out of touch their southern allies are.

    • Jambo25

      I would imagine that voters in villages like Wrea Green will be demanding fracking in their area. Actually, if the idiotic Howell got his way then Wrea Green would possibly be on the list of fracking sites. Are southern Tories so out of touch with the rest of England that they don’t know what places like Fylde, Bowland and the rest of northern Lancashire are like?

  • evad666

    Lord Howell is quite obviously a prat who must spend his time whizzing through the North of England on his way to a shooting weekend from his Surhay constituency.
    Or more probably he has never been North of Watford as he believes his own class propaganda that anyone living North of Watford is a lazy good for nothing.
    Well have you visiteed the North of England?

  • andagain

    Perhaps Lord Howell should suggest fracking in Scotland, Wales and areas with a lot of black people. After all, they don’t tend to vote tory either. For some reason…

  • sfin

    I think the author makes important social, as well as economical points.

    We on the right can bleat all we like about Northern chips on shoulders and tribal political attitudes – but it is a fact that a generational way of life was removed in pretty short order by successive governments (Labour as well as Conservative).

    Giving the Northern industrial areas back their heavy industry isn’t going to eradicate socialism overnight, but prosperity never harmed the right’s cause – think Thatcherism and Essex man (it’s one of socialism’s major flaws that it has a vested interest in keeping the downtrodden where they are.). I ,personally, would advocate John Lewis style cooperative companies to run all this, to encourage a spirit of initiative and enterprise for all people in the areas concerned.

    Give ’em back their dark satanic mills and leave the shires alone! Sounds like a win-win to me.

  • Raw England

    We Northerners HATE the parastical cancer that is London, Birmingham etc.

    We are the ones who’ve been hit hardest. We’re the ones who’ve been destroyed to make way for millions of unwanted foreign immigrants.

  • cromwell

    Us northerners should join Scotland then you southerners will have no gas or oil, look forward to a London to Jarrow hunger march.

    • Tony_E

      And a very small welfare state, very low unemployment, independence from Europe, free markets, higher GDP/population…..

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Not all of Scotland. Just the bits that belong to us perhaps (old Northumbria)

  • e2toe4

    This article is just as mad as a bat… does nobody sub-edit anymore? Leaving aside the idea that the Conservative party seems to have a death wish..the article is just so badly sellotaped together it doesn’t make sense.

    The North East has too tiny blobs on the map yet the unemployment stats for the North East are used as a major supporting fact in the ‘analysis’….it should be the North West and ‘Yorkshire and Humberside’ if the argument is to have any coherence.

    But addressing the substance at it’s core…Taking the UK as a whole the Tory party ‘lost’ Scotland for a whole raft reason that have proved so difficult to combat that Scotland has ever since represented the major lynch pin of the 35% Labour strategy—articulated today, but in fact always present in the calculations.

    A major part of the aims of the government at the start was boundary reform to try and address this, itself then derailed by the rows over proportional representation and AV— but the fact that fiddling with boundaries was thought a better plan than trying to win over Scots, shows how toxic ‘the brand’ is in Scotland, and how futile in their hearts the party elite feel trying to do anything actually is—this impotence has now carried over into the referendum debate where no Tories can even make the argument because of the brand toxicity.

    Mrs Thatcher’s government, and the Major administration that followed were responsible for much of the infrastructure development that is presented when, unlike in articles like this one, it is the ‘success side’ that is being pushed…on Tyneside the whole Quayside redevelopment was started by the Development corporation, as it was on the ‘walk in wilderness’ site in Stockton, the Cobalt business park and others in the region are a direct result of the Enterprise Zone idea originated in that time….

    Yet Mrs Thatcher is held up by many as the ‘woman who destroyed the North’….I don’t agree that view, but whether one does or does not, she’s way to the left of Nimby Howells on this evidence–to come out with this once is a mistake or a mis-speak as the Americans say,,.twice is either idiotic, or very sinister.

    Just as the party lost Scotland, these kind of attitudes risk losing the North East, and North West, and Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands, Midlands and elsewhere…not only increasingly politically, but after a decade or two, in reality as well perhaps.

    Maybe London is a global city happy to float off on a sea of Russian, Kazakh and anywhere else that has some worried people looking to find a place for their dosh. But whether Londoners want to or not, that’s what will happen if idiotic ideas like this are given credence within what still likes to profess to being a one nation party.

    Off out now to have a walk around some desolate fells … no doubt when Finance Centre One has floated off to join Singapore, Hong Kong and the rest we won’t have to put up with this sort of rubbish up here..just rake it in from selling our water at 50p a litre for roof garden sprinklers in empty flats around Hyde Park.

    Rant over….but honestly, what a berk!

  • Raddiy

    As a member of the Northern lumpen, might I be allowed to offer comment on Sebastian Payne and Lord Howells, two paragons of geographical incontinence.

    To a Conservative the North East starts when you see the first pack of feral whippets, and you pass the flat cap factory on the approaches to the Tees, and ends when you start hearing the raucous cries of blue painted red haired people taking part in ‘FREEDOM’ shouting contests.

    Sebastian the nearest fracking gas to the North East is in the middle of the North York Moors National Park around Castleton, nowhere near the ‘desolation’ of the North East or is it the North West. If you are going to comment on the poorly educated Lord Howell, then at least do so from a position of not exposing your own inability to know the route from your brain to to your backside without using a GPS.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      I’m pleased to see that we are in the middle of an area ‘under consideration’. Bring it on say I. The AONB can handle a bit of industry and Lordy, do we need the jobs.

    • e2toe4

      spot on… Nimby Howells must be an idiot (Not an SNP or UKiP third man sleeper is he?) and the magazine needs to get some trained journalists in..used to be called sub-editors, they’re now all gone,but the new name (for the interns that do it) is fact-checkers–even the most lowly Wikipedia clicker would have spotted the credibility-bomb in the article.

    • evad666

      Feel free to develop the Shale Gas oop North but under no circumstances should we share it with the South East except at a very large premium paid to the North.

  • you_kid

    Are we ready to frack the moment Scotland decides England’s future then?

  • Peter Stroud

    We are told that fracking sites need be no more intrusive that the conventional oil
    wells, established in parts of rural Hampshire the 1980s. If so, what is all the fuss about? We need the energy fracking will provide, whether from sites in the North or South. Or would people, like the scientifically illiterate Davey and Miliband prefer thousands of wind turbines?

  • El_Sid

    Look at this interactive map to see all of the potential areas in the NE under consideration for fracking:

    Like almost none – the fact that they’ve not been licensed yet tells you something. You do realise that the North-East is a defined region for the purposes of employment statistics, separate from Yorkshire? The main band of shale roughly follows the line of the M62, and the second-best is the Weald basin. Howell’s stating the bleedin’ obvious in his own inimitable way – it is incredibly stupid of Cuadrilla to even think about drilling in the Weald until they’ve established proof of principle in the Bowland for so many reasons.

    Aside from the different employment situation, in the Weald 90% of drinking water is from groundwater, (whereas it has been known to rain in Lancashire), and in the Weald your neighbours are London lawyers and the only place in Britain with a Green MP – the perfect mix of sophisticated lines of attack and Swampies. It was obvious that doing anything too early in the Weald would threaten the whole enterprise, but as we’ve seen in these comments in the past, the US element in the shale companies is not always appreciative of such local considerations.

    The brownfield site thing is well-established – look at how IGas are working on brownfield sites along the Ship Canal, it just makes commercial sense because planning permission is so much quicker.

    • Refracktion

      Quite right – us “Aboriginal Nimby Numpties” ( © Professor Richard Selley, Imperial College) ooop North haven’t got a clue how mount a sophisticated line of attack. We are too busy feeding our whippets and shopping for flat caps.

      • El_Sid

        Which is precisely what I didn’t say. It would be strange for me to be anti-northerner, given that I’m one myself. It’s just reality – the Weald is much more fertile ground for an effective political/media campaign, simply because its on the back door of most of our national politicians and media. That’s not prejudice, just compare the profile of the Balcombe protests versus those in Lancs. Having personal experience of planning permission for conventional wells in north and south, I can tell you it’s far more difficult in the south – and traffic movements should not be dismissed, they’re one of the biggest bones of contention.

        Nor is it prejudice to say that if one of the main concerns is groundwater contamination, then it makes a lot more sense to do your test runs in areas which don’t rely on groundwater for their water supply. In fact even the Septics have banned fraccing under the main aquifer for New York City, so there’s some precedent for being cautious in the Weald.

        • Refracktion

          Do you know what percentage of water in PEDL 156 comes from boreholes? I don’t have the figure to hand but I did check with United Utilities and I was quite shocked. Believe me the Weald does not have a monopoly on water extraction from the ground even if we do get a bit more rain up here.

    • e2toe4

      That’s a reasonable argument… but there is so much bilge talked about the wonder-of-London that ignores the fact that it IS part of a larger country and in many ways my taxes (here ooop North) pay for lots of infrastructure that has a marginal effect on my life, apart from the bad ones that arise when idiots like Howell start drawing false conclusions from bad premises.

      Recently Alan Beith announced his retirement saying he would love the A1 North of Newcastle to be duelled….I covered his arrival as an MP in the seventies when he said a major aim was ….well you guessed it.

      Watching CrossRail, the Olympics, St Pancras, KIngs Cross, Eurostar and the rest while absolutely nothing has been done to A1 is galling…. what came first the infrastructure or the business? Having statements like Howell’s made that imply the place is desolate and it’s poor people unable to raise themselves cannot support ‘proper business like wot we do in the South east’ is divisive….and similar to the idiocies that led the Conservative party to lose this rate it will lose the North east, North West and the rest.

      • Jambo25

        Actually the A1 situation is even worse than you hint at. When Malcolm Rifkind was Secretary of State for Scotland he offered to use money from the Scottish Office budget to ‘dual’ the A1 as far as the Northumberland border if the Department of Transport, in England, would spend money to ‘dual’ the section from Newcastle up to the Scottish border. His offer was turned down flat.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Howell actually claimed that it was Tory votes that are lost when Ed Davey promotes fracking (because Davey now realises his previous energy plan doesn’t offer us energy security). Perhaps if Tories had the gumption to point out that shale development is far less intrusive than the windmills that Davey and Miliband wanted to rely on, and can provide much more energy, we might get somewhere. Howell probably hasn’t a clue of the location of the wells already in existence around his former constituency. To help him, here’s a picture showing the locations of existing wells in England and Wales:

    Just look how those Southern shires have already been invaded.

    • HookesLaw

      Davey has an energy plan?

      • itdoesntaddup

        Turn out the lights…

  • HookesLaw

    Speaking of jobs –

    ‘Call for Farage apology as number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in UK falls’
    (The Times – £)
    ‘The figures show that British workers took over nine in ten of new jobs in the UK economy in the last year.’

    • Sapporo

      Show us the detailed figures, not the Media smears and lies.

      • HookesLaw

        The smears and lies came from farage.
        Head in the sand? Well how about this…
        ‘Ukip faces a “cash-for-Euro-seats” scandal after forcing MEPs to donate large sums and threatening to bar those who refused from standing again, its former deputy leader says.
        Ex-Ukip insiders have also raised concerns that the party favoured wealthy MEP candidates before this month’s European elections.
        Two leading candidates for the May 22 poll, and the partner of a third,
        donated or lent the party tens of thousands of pounds about the time they
        were selected for safe seats, according to an analysis of Electoral
        Commission records’
        (The Times)
        UKIP and Curruption. It might not be so bad if they bothered to turn up and defend UK interests. The United Kingdom Invisible Party.

    • Tony_E

      The important number will be the number of NI numbers issued. Remember in the late 1990’s – the Swindon debacle. We apparently had a very small number of immigrants, but couldn’t account for a huge number of NI numbers issued that turned out to have been given to illegal immigrants.

      The same in the 2000’s – the first real indicator of the real numbers was the NI issues figures.

      Strangely enough, the numbers this year are out on…………May 22.

  • Colin56

    Perhaps the old boy could be persuaded to intervene on the Unionist side in the Scottish independence debate, thereby guaranteeing a win for the Nationalists and doing both Scotland and England a great national service!

  • Refracktion

    Well maybe the “desolate” and “derelict” North should join with Scotland and demand independence from the South who plainly see us as an area to be sacrificed so they can continue to live in twee chocolate box villages with £1,000,000 houses and cricket pitches & warm beer on a Sunday afternoon. There’s a scene in the film Kes that springs to mind – a certain gesture made by the kid 🙂

    “Investment in fracking is a huge new potential stream of money and jobs for the region.” You missed out the word “temporary” there by the way!

    • Colin56

      Perhaps England – north and south – could declare independence from Westminster and leave the politicians and hangers on to feed off each other in their fracking bubble.

      • HookesLaw

        Perhaps you should declare independence from the planet and find a new one to live on.

        • Refracktion

          That’s not bad idea when you look at the mess that the politicians and their Oil and Gas pals seem intent on making of this one.

          • HookesLaw

            We see the prejudiced slant that you are coming from. No doubt you can find a planet where you do not need the products obtained from oil and gas.
            ‘oil and gas pals’ – pathetic.

            • Refracktion

              If prejudiced means having looked at and weighed up the evidence as best, as a layman, I can, then yes I am prejudiced. I have formed an opinion. It seems my eyes may be a little more open than yours though.

              “Oil and gas pals” far from being pathetic is quite acurate when you look at the influence of Lord Browne and others on this policy.

        • Colin56

          Why the personal abuse? Seriously, why? Do you get off on it or something? Maybe you’re a politician or hanger on and the suggestion is a bit too close to home for you? If you’re offended, my apologies. Enlighten us, do.

    • HookesLaw

      What sacrifice? Do you object to trucks serving factories? Would you rather some other region or country had this valuable natural resource. Not long ago thousands of miners were on strike to demand the right to go on digging in dangerous uneconomic holes in the ground. Now you nsneer at this as a clean safe energy which will be even more valuable.

      • Refracktion

        If it really were clean and safe this debate would not be necessary my friend.

        • HookesLaw

          Just because there is scaremongering, my friend, dpoes not mean that the scares are justified. I see 500 miners in Turkey are feared dead. Is fracking so dangerous? How would you rather get your energy?

          • Refracktion

            Dismissing valid concerns as scaremongering is typical, as is offering false choices like that. Nice try though 🙂

            • HookesLaw

              Valid concerns have been met.

              • Refracktion

                Rather self-evidently, they haven’t as even Lord Howell has to admit.

                • itdoesntaddup

                  So when did they shut down Wytch Farm?

                • Refracktion

                  So when did they frack Wytch Farm?

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh, you forgot the South also have, village greens with duck ponds.
      Vicars riding bicycles, hedgehogs and little boys with clean faces and shoes.
      And the North have a tremendous amount of space with desolate, brooding
      moors and landscapes that go on forever- very good for those little boys
      with no shoes and whippet dogs, wearing flat caps and carrying hovis loaves to go running around.

    • e2toe4

      That’s hitting the nail on the head of at least one reason (from many) exactly why this restatement of idiocy from Nimby Howells is so stupid…

  • david trant

    Howell probably the worse energy minister there ever was responsible for the ‘gas levy’ raising domestic gas prices by 8% above the rate of inflation for four years in the early 80’s anything he says is going to be a disaster.

    The idea that fracking can in anyway replace the labour intensive industries that dominated the North is just risible. Howell the ex MP for Guildford is just ‘concerned’ that fracking doesn’t spoil the Surrey stockbroker belt.

  • Tony_E

    There’s plenty of areas under consideration in North Norfolk – well bring it on here as soon as possible. Energy security is the future, and not only that, we need the economic development.

    • Jonathan Sidaway

      Living down the road from Chelsea on Sea – and gentrification has certainly made the area look even better – I am in sympathy with this comment. Without getting into mudslinging about duckponds versus derricks, I keep coming back to the need (at least as I perceive it) for a real regional economy that might enable the less well-heeled to get a foothold on the housing ladder: it cannot be healthy for triumphant nimbyism entirely to define rural areas. Personally speaking, fracking sounds better to me, and pretty certainly more energy productive, than bird-killing wind turbines. If what they say about the States is true, fracking would generate the kind of income that supports compensation for more people than the landowner of a wind turbine site.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    On the whole, I think it is better to drill where the gas is. Where the most gas most easily obtained is. And employ locally, and pay for inconvenience caused. And never mind about some stupid speculation about whether that works out to votes.

    And if we could avoid making stupid stupid stupid distinctions between areas trying to set one part of the population against another for purposes of some stupid agenda, that would be nice. Self- or outwardly- imposed victimhood is bad for everybody, the proclaimed victims and their unknowing oppressors.

    • Tony_E

      It would, but there is some sense in the idea of trying to persuade the the people with least to lose and most to gain.

      Those regions where previous industrial development has left disused land, or under developed brownfield, surely gives the best return for investment with the least sensible resistance, disruption, environmental or economic damage.

    • HookesLaw

      You know – you talk sense. !

  • Brian K

    Funny, I don’t see any areas at all under consideration on that map.

    • Tony_E

      Tick the box on the left of the ‘Under Consideration’ text.

      • Refracktion

        Or just imagine most of the UK except Mr Cameron’s constituency 🙂

      • Brian K


  • Darnell Jackson

    Please ask Lord Howell to explain why energy security should play second fiddle to vote harvesting.

    • Mike Barnes

      All those Tory slogans about ‘national interest’ and ‘long term long term economic plans’ go out of the window when votes are at risk.

  • Sapporo

    Do you think his home will be attacked?
    Well done the Media, provoking the hard-left into violent attacks on UKIP because you don’t want you buddies in the political elite to lose their jobs and influence.

    Save democracy, liberty and freedom for Britain and vote UKIP.

    • Swiss Bob

      Cameron should be prosecuted for handing taxpayers cash to the UAF thugs, as well as resigning for such poor judgement.

      Tories supporting fascists, who’d a thunk it?