How political campaigning is shaping-up in the heart of British shale: Lancashire
The Fylde Coast in Lancashire. Home to agriculture and tourism – both largely seasonal occupations – and potentially shale gas if Cuadrilla Resources is granted planning permission for either of its two proposed sites there. Here’s our take on the political landscape in the run up to the General Election.
Mark Menzies MP, Conservative
Fylde is currently a Conservative-held seat, and the incumbent is Mark Menzies who won with a majority of 13,185 votes in 2010. He has also previously contested seats in other constituencies, and is a seasoned political campaigner.
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. In a recent written question to the Energy Minister, he asked:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, if he will bring forward legislative proposals to establish an independent panel to oversee the regulation of the shale gas industry.”
In January, Mr Menzies along with four Conservative colleagues voted against the Government on proposed changes to the Infrastructure Bill and also voted in favour of a fracking moratorium proposed by members of the Environmental Audit Committee.
Overall, his stance could be characterised as cautiously supportive, provided that shale gas delivers on its promise to create local jobs and is conducted safely against a back drop of effective regulation.
In 2010, Mr Menzies polled 22,826 votes, a 52.25% share.
Fred Van Mierlo, Liberal Democrats
Freddie, as he is better known, is a consultant with Harwood Levitt, where he has a “special interest in the environment and energy sectors, with a focus on the environmental regulation of shale gas in the EU”
He doesn’t seem to have been especially vocal in the local shale gas debate so far, but that may be because expressing strong opinions either way could compromise his effectiveness in his consulting work.
In his most notable recent contribution, he criticised the Government for failing to issue an unredacted version of a report produced last year by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
In 2010, Fylde Liberal Democrats polled 9,641 votes, a 22.07% share.
Jed Sullivan, Labour
Mr Sullivan was selected as the Labour Party candidate in July 2014 and will be campaigning under the slogan ‘Fighting to give young people in Fylde a fairer chance.’
Whilst fracking may not overtly feature in his campaigning so far, he has previously told a Labour Party conference fringe event entitled ‘Fracking is not the future’ that whilst he is a NIMBY on the issue of shale gas, he’s also a NIYBYE: not in your back yard either.
He has also said he doesn’t think that onshore shale gas will be a job creator.
It will be interesting to see how Mr Sullivan manages to tread the fine line between his personal convictions and Labour’s recognition at the national level that shale gas could, if well regulated, boost energy security, create a new and needed source of tax revenue for the Exchequer and create jobs – particularly given his stance on giving Fylde’s youth a fairer chance.
In 2010, Fylde Labour polled 8,624 votes, a 19.74% share.
Paul White is the Fylde candidate fielded by UKIP
In a statement released last week, Mr White said of shale gas: “In UKIP we believe that the prize of total or partial energy independence, local industry and jobs, reduced imports, and lower energy costs, is so vast, we cannot afford to ignore it,” but went on to say that he feels the future of fracking on the Fylde should be determined by a referendum.
In 2010, Fylde UKIP polled 1,945 votes, a 4.45% share.
Bob Dennett, Green Party
Bob Dennett has been campaigning against shale gas extraction on the Fylde for several years, most notably as a member of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, and so it’s probably fair to assume that in standing for election as the Green Party candidate for the Fylde, we can expect to see more campaigning in this vein.
His most recent foray in the debate has been to suggest, in a televised interview on Russia Today, that depleted shale gas wells will one day be home to nuclear waste, citing official documents that he says appear to confirm this (something that experts at the OESG strongly dispute – see here).
Otherwise, Mr Dennett seems to be having a quiet political campaign so far and, curiously, the Green Party website offers no background to this candidate. Last year, he stood in local elections and polled just 54 votes, or a 4.3% share, in the St John’s ward on the Fylde.
In 2010, Fylde Greens polled 654 votes, a 1.5% share.
Mike Hill, Independent
Mike Hill has spent the last several years variously appearing to oppose shale gas extraction altogether or to oppose it without what he says are necessary additional regulations.
In his campaign to stand as an independent MP, he has so far taken a very anti-fracking stance, with a ‘Save the Fylde’ slogan and banners that claim shale gas brings a risk of environmental damage and harm to public health.
His Twitter feed poses questions such as “@FrackingRegs: How many additional birth defects are the candidates of the Fylde prepared to accept? Their parties are all for fracking. So how many?”
This sort of campaigning is unusual for a political candidate seeking election to public office, and could prove to be a high risk strategy.
No independent candidates stood in Fylde at the 2010 elections.
The fact that candidates from the main parties aren’t making much comment on shale gas and fracking suggests that they don’t see it benefiting their campaigns on the Fylde either way – whether expressing support or opposition.
To some extent, this seems to reflect the party view at the national level: only the Green Party is openly opposed to shale gas and fracking; the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP have all openly supported it, to a greater or lesser extent, recognising the potential environmental and economic advantages it presents as long as it’s done safely and is adequately regulated.
Back on the Fylde, a Conservative stronghold for decades, it seems unlikely that the two candidates campaigning on an anti-fracking ticket will poll strongly on 7 May, and UKIP’s candidate doesn’t seem to be particularly visible, which probably means the seat will be most hotly contested by the three main parties.
What do you think the Fylde vote might look like? Tell us with this poll.