Sunday, 10 February 2013

Can Shale Gas Revive Our Great Northern Cities?

Yesterday, the British Geological Survey issued the astonishing announcement  that the UK could host up to 1,700 cubic feet of shale gas - enough to heat up British homes for up to 1,500 years at current demand (£).

It's well known that in America the shale gas revolution is well under way, has vastly lowered gas prices and is expected to lead a re-industrialisation of the American economy, as firms "re-shore" energy-intensive production.

But this being Britain, our cautious technocrats are filled with negativity. "No game changer" says Sam Laidlaw of Centrica. Moreover, even if shale gas was exploited, we can't even expect lower gas prices.

Various reasons are cited for the lack of shale gas potential, such as land ownership in the US (there you, not the government, own the mineral rights,  incentivising exploration), no supply chain, too urbanised an environment, fear of earthquakes, etc.

All these (apart from the earthquake nonsense) may be legitimate arguments, but yet again what is striking is the total lack of political will to do anything about them.  It's hard not to think that the country is slowly but surely slipping back into the timidity, smallness and meanness of spirit which so characterised the 1970s, "led" as we are  by a cowardly, corporatist establishment. To add to our woes, the environmentalist lobby  has an instinctive hatred of anything that is not renewable, and our MetroLib political class has signed up pretty much wholesale to the fashionable green energy agenda.

The second very revealing - and equally depressing - fact is the whole Metropolitan tone of coverage of the issue. It is instructive that The Times article (£) cited above on the subject talked very much about the likely impact on heating bills rather than on the potential for re-industrialisation. Industry, you see, is something fashionable MetroLib types just don't do. It brings back images of rough, probably Northern (yuck) men is flat caps doing dirty and dangerous jobs.  It's hard to see a man as effete as Nick Clegg getting excited about reopening steel works or chemical plants.

Even if somehow despite official lack of enthusiasm shale gas did take off, we may never reap the benefits. Theodore Dalrymple argues depressingly but convincingly in Standpoint magazine that we would suffer a Resource Curse similar to many developing countries who have totally squandered mineral wealth. Namely our rent-seeking political class would just use the proceeds to feather the nests of their own client groups. The Labour Party, which in theory may be expected to welcome the prospect of a revitalised industrial North, would of course in fact much prefer that they remain sovietised and moribund, dependent on government largess.

UKIP's Opportunity

Which brings use to yet another opportunity for UKIP, and more importantly a moral mission. Currently, the party is engaged in a battle to win over Labour voters, who have largely been abandoned by what has become the party of the white collar public sector with a thoroughly Metropolitan leadership. In the short term we are focusing, correctly, on the likely impact Romanian and Bulgarian immigration will have on working class communities when entry restrictions are lifted in January 2014. However there is only so far a party can go on the politics of fear and negativity. Eventually people will, rightly, expect from us a positive vision of the future.

In the post-industrial landscape of the North, where of course most of the Labour heartlands reside, people have been bereft of a constructive vision of the future for a very long time. Various ideas have been tried, of course, but few if any have really resonated with proud working-class communities built on the toil of heavy industry. But what would resonate very deeply with them would be the return of skilled manual, masculine jobs in areas that desperately need them, in traditional industries that fit with Northern culture.

For this reason, UKIP should repeatedly and aggressively state our intention to explore every opportunity to see if cheap energy from shale gas could be used to re-industrialise our great Northern cities. For instance, if mineral rights are a problem for shale gas exploration, why not allow their privatisation by allowing landowners to buy them if they so wish? If infrastructure is a problem, wouldn't the money currently been squandered on the ruinous HS2 project be better spent here?

We shouldn't over-egg the pudding and build up false hopes of course, but at least by championing the issue of potential re-industralisation we would show that we alone genuinely care for the people and their passions and - most importantly of all - their future dignity in areas that our Metropolitan LibLabCon parties do not even wish to reminded of let alone understand. It may seem strange to Southern ears, but to at least partially rebuild the great industrial heartlands: the savage beauty of the steelworks of Sheffield, Newcastle and Hartlepool, the chemical plants of the Wirral and the ship-makers of the Tyne, is a deeply romantic one to those Northern cities who in the past thirty years feel they have lost their soul. And, in the end, a successful political vision does require a degree of romance.