Fracking and the general election: a look at the constituency picture
On Thursday 7 May, the Conservative Party won a surprise – if slim – majority in the general election, and has since gone on to form a single party government. We take a look at the election results in constituencies that are already or may in the near future play host to onshore oil and gas development, starting with the Fylde in Lancashire.
Fylde coast, Lancashire, home to Cuadrilla’s proposed shale gas activities
The incumbent Conservative MP, Mark Menzies, held on to his Fylde seat with an increased share of the vote compared with 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000706 As noted previously, Mr Menzies has expressed his views on shale gas many times, both in and out of Parliament.
For instance, he was behind an Adjournment Debate that triggered the formation of the Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil.
He has also repeatedly acknowledged the economic potential that shale gas brings whilst championing strong and effective regulation, most recently urging Government to set up an independent panel to scrutinise regulation.
See our more detailed analysis in the case study at the end of this post.
Thirsk and Malton, home to Third Energy’s existing conventional gas activities and proposed shale gas exploration
This seat was previously held by Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee that produced a critical report on fracking and called for a ban on the practice in January 2015. Ms McIntosh was deselected by her constituency party earlier in the year and has now retired from politics. Her replacement, Kevin Hollinrake, retained the seat http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000993 On his election website, Mr Hollinrake discusses shale gas in quite a sensible way, but there are a number of contradictions and it’s difficult to discern his true position. This comment is perhaps most telling: “I would be first in a long line of residents who would fight tooth and nail to prevent any attempt to try and produce shale gas in our area on an industrial scale.”
Beverley and Holderness, home to two exploratory wells operated by Rathlin
This Conservative seat was held by the incumbent, Graham Stuart http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000556 He is a previous member of the Environmental Audit Committee (2006-2010) with interests in climate change and rural affairs, and has expressed some strong views on wind farms and onshore shale gas extraction.
Mid Sussex, host to Celtique Energie’s proposed conventional onshore oil exploration activities
The Conservative MP, Sir Nicholas Soames, has held this seat since 1997 and retained it in 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000817 He has been vocally very supportive of at least examining the potential of Britain’s onshore oil and gas resources, saying Britain would be “mad” not to explore fracking. However, at a parliamentary hustings before the recent general election, he was filmed saying that fracking in Sussex would be silly and he would not do it but that Lancashire was “very under-populated” and that “I think it would be a very good place to start because the infrastructure is there and it wouldn’t trouble people and they can prove that it would work. But I would not do it in Sussex”.
Horsham, which includes Cuadrilla’s Balcombe exploration site
Jeremy Quin, successor to Francis Maude, retained this seat for the Conservatives http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000753 We haven’t so far been able to find much in the way of Mr Quin’s views on shale and fracking, and so he is, for the time being, an unknown quantity.
Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative incumbent, held on to the Chichester seat http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000633 Mr Tyrie’s main interests in parliament have centred on economics. He formally objected to Celtique’s drilling plans for its Fernhurst site and also wrote to Michael Fallon, as energy minister, to warn that should any of the community benefit payments proposed by the shale gas industry fall into the hands of local minerals and waste planning authorities responsible for approving shale gas planning applications, it could amount to a conflict of interest.
Ellesmere Port and Neston, home to an IGas exploratory drilling site
Andrew Miller, a pro-shale Labour MP, left parliament at the election. Justin Madders, his successor, held the seat with a 3.1% increase in the share of the vote http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000688 He is the former Labour leader on the Chester West and Cheshire Council and, in response to the Council’s refusal to publicly debate the topic of shale gas in March this year, said “This council already has a reputation for ignoring the wishes of its residents, for stifling debate and for acting in a high-handed and arrogant manner. Once again you have proved it tonight.” However, his campaign website says he plans to continue supporting local industry, much of which is very energy intensive, and will no doubt wish to support onshore oil and gas as a potential major employer.
Arundel and South Downs
The Conservative MP, Nick Herbert, held on to this safe seat http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000534 He also increased share of the vote. He has previously opposed plans by Celtique Energie to explore for oil at Wisborough Green and Fernhurst.
Shropshire North, home to Dart Energy’s coalbed methane site at Dudleston Heath
Owen Paterson, the pro-fracking Conservative MP and former environment secretary held his seat with a 16,494 majority but no change in the share of the vote http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000849 His constituency includes Dudleston, where Dart Energy (party of IGas Energy) is appealing against a non-determination of its application for coalbed methane exploration.
In all but one of the constituencies already earmarked for shale gas and oil exploration, a Conservative MP was returned to parliament. The Conservative Party has so far given the developing onshore oil and gas sector the most vocal political support, whereas the Green Party has been consistently and vehemently opposed – and yet, in all but one case, the Green Party candidate standing in these key constituencies at the general election failed to muster above 5% of the vote and all but one lost their deposit as a candidate.
This appears to suggest that, far from being the election issue that some had perhaps hoped for, fracking hasn’t really captured the imagination of voters in areas faced with shale gas and oil exploration. In fact, it seems that opposition among the general public is not as fierce as it is sometimes claimed, with voters choosing not to use the election as an opportunity to put the brakes on this promising industry.
Fylde voting – an insightful case study
The outcome of the Fylde election provides quite an interesting case study on the difference between stated voting intentions and how people actually vote at the ballot box.
In the run-up to the general election, we published a blog post analysing the state of political campaigning on the Fylde in Lancashire – the current heart of Britain’s shale gas efforts – that included an online poll. Over the next few days, the page received over 3,000 visits and 2,896 votes were cast in our poll, with two strong contenders emerging – the incumbent Conservative MP, Mark Menzies on 38% and the Independent candidate, Mike Hill, on 44%.
However, on 7 May 2015, the result was somewhat different. Whilst the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP candidates all fared much better than our poll suggested, the Green Party and Independent candidates didn’t do as well as our poll predicted.
And that’s because of the amount of repeat voting that occurred on our poll. It was set up to block duplicate voting using cookies, but those intent on registering multiple votes could do so quite easily by simply deleting cookies from their computer. What they couldn’t do, however, was mask their IP addresses – and a look at the data shows many multiples of votes being cast in our poll from a relatively small number of devices with the same IP addresses appearing over and over again.
Additionally, although we made it clear the poll was intended to canvass the opinion of Fylde voters, it quickly became apparent that people from across the UK were being encouraged to vote too, by posts like this from @FrackFreeMPs on the social media site Twitter, promoting our poll to an anti-fracking group in Somerset:
In short, supporters of the Green Party and Independent candidates appeared to have tried to manipulate the result of our poll in order to produce a result that gave the impression of very strong and widespread public support for two particular candidates. The reality, in the only poll that really mattered, was very different.