Not Like That

If you are a climate activist who has engaged in direct action, or you have supported people who have taken direct action, you will have been told that you are doing it wrong. Blocking traffic, glueing on, locking on, marching, staging a die-in, all of these are the wrong approach. Apparently.

It’s also the case that when you challenge a sceptic, you will be told that you should write to your MP. So let’s think about that.

Fracking is a particularly contentious aspect of oil and gas exploitation. It brings the oil business to nice rural parts of the UK that don’t want heavy lorries and drilling happening on their doorstep. Fracking is also associated with causing small earthquakes and threatening water supplies. So there was a huge sigh of relief in 2019 when the Conservative government placed a moratorium on further fracking activity. This policy formed part of their election manifesto and they won with a significant majority.

Since then, the founder of Quadrilla, the main company exploring fracking in the UK has publicly said that the geology of the UK was not suitable for fracking and it wouldn’t happen.

That should have been game over for fracking, but then a new Conservative government under Liz Truss entered office. This government is well and truly in the pocket of fossil fuel companies. Former oil company people in government, including the prime minister herself. Oil company donations were flowing in. Suddenly the government announced that they were looking again at fracking.

Naturally, there was outrage. Much of this came from Conservative backbenchers who had potential or dormant fracking sites in their constituencies. They had been elected on a pledge of no fracking and now the government was reversing that position.

Labour moved quickly and put down a motion demanding a permanent ban on fracking. Conservative MPs were put in an impossible situation. Voting as their constituents would want (for a fracking ban) would mean they would have to side with Labour. Voting against a fracking ban would be seen as reneging on their 2019 election commitments. Matters were made worse by the Conservative whips insisting that this motion was a de-facto confidence vote in the government.

The votes were cast and the Labour motion was defeated. But the vote was accompanied by chaotic and angry scenes. At the last moment, the Conservative climate change minister spoke in the house and said that the vote was not a confidence matter. This undermined the reasoning that many MPs were employing to decide how to vote. It was also deeply confusing and there were angry scenes in the lobbies as Conservative MPs openly argued amongst themselves.

Last night and this morning, many Conservative MPs are having to explain to their constituents why they continue to oppose fracking but refused to vote for a ban on it. Obviously, that is a wholly inconsistent position and can only be explained by these MPs preferring to put party allegiance before the country and constituents.

Last night’s events show why writing to your MP about something as critical to our future as oil and gas exploration is not an adequate response. Conservative MPs have shown quite clearly that they are willing to play political games with something as serious as the climate crisis.

They are not to be trusted, so why trust them?

Mass civil disobedience is the only tactic that has consistently delivered progressive social change. Waiting for politicians to get with the programme simply doesn’t work.

So ignore the naysayers, get out on the streets and show solidarity for those already there. This is what will make the difference.