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: