Lock the (Harro) Gate
So yesterday found me in Harrogate – a strange place to be for a Lancashire resident maybe, given that it turned out to be decision day on the LCC appeals, but to be honest I didn’t expect Sajid Javid to take the decision right down to the wire when I made the arrangements to go to Harrogate to visit the beautiful RHS gardens at Harlow Carr and attend the debate at the Wesley Chapel on the motion “This House Calls for an Immediate End to Fracking in the UK“.
The debate was between John Plummer, seconded by Ian Crane, proposing the motion and Ken Wilkinson, seconded by Lorraine Allanson, opposing it.
Ken and Lorraine, perhaps realising that they were fighting a losing battle even before they drew breath had tried very hard to pull out of the event, but had been shamed into continuing . The fig leaf that they used to cover their shame had been that they required extra security to protect themselves, so as we walked up Oxford Street we were not totally surprised to see 4 police officers mooching about. When we asked them if they were there for the debate they looked a bit embarrassed and muttered something about being there anyway as the shopping area was a regular trouble spot. If only we had that many policemen with nothing better to do on a Thursday night at 6:30 pm in Lytham!
On entering the hall it became evident that the audience would be more likely to pass comments about how young the policemen looked these days than give them any reason to exercise their professional skills. I imagine Ken and Lorraine must have felt pretty foolish for claiming that this largely middle aged, middle class audience was going to cause any sort of problem requiring a police presence. It’s a shame that resources had to be wasted in this way to no purpose at all other than to provide an excuse for the faint-heartedness of the pro-frackers. We think that about 90 people attended and judging from those we spoke to at least half of them seemed to be regulars at the series of debates held at the chapel. If we lived closer I think we too would attend these events regularly.
And so to the debate, which was ably chaired by Professor John Adams MBE, a jovial cove with a light touch and a twinkle in his eye – exactly what was required for a potentially fractious topic.
It started with local resident John Plummer enumerating 6 reasons why he believed fracking for shale gas should not be tolerated. He spoke gently and convincingly and was clearly well-received by the audience.
We felt he made a very good case and wondered how those opposing the motion would react.
Next up was Ken Wilkinson. Ken had taken the extraordinary step of having a double sided glossy A4 leaflet prepared with what he called “The Evidence” on it. He had also purchased a T-shirt specially for the occasion with the message “The good thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it“. It’s a bit trite really – in fact it’s reality which is “true” and science is the means by which we humans try to comprehend and explain that reality – sometimes well, and sometimes as in Ken’s case not so well. We think the T-shirt was probably a waste of £14.99 as he then went on to complain about the “bad science” used by anti-frackers, but then again we don’t think understanding irony is Ken’s bag really.
Anyway Ken made much of his hand out, and went through the usual litany – his serial if rather unsuccessful, complaints to the ASA, and the “fact” that The Royal Society, PHE, The RAE, The BGS and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, all say “Shale gas is safe if it’s done properly” – (How do you “do” shale gas? You know, from a science point of view? ).
We are sure he really knows that none of these organisation has actually said that, but then we do know that he does have a penchant for repeating untruths even when he has had them pointed out several times.
Oddly he omitted any mention of his embarrassing failure to ruin Mike Hill’s professional career by raising vexatious complaints with the IET. He also stated that the sand used in fracking is the same as that found on a beach and that disposal of waste water by injection was not permitted, which as we later pointed out to him is not in fact true. (So much for science eh?)
At one point he theatrically drank a glass full of water containing (he said) some polyacrylamide. Strangely, he didn’t really have an answer when somebody in the audience asked if he’d have done the same with a glassful of biocide, so his gesture fell rather flat. Maybe it was because of this that we never did learn why he has been staring at a glass of water with an egg in it before the debate began.
He sat down after 20 minutes to what I shall politely call muted applause.
Over the course of the evening Ken’s rapport with the audience seemed rather brittle. He came across as very peevish. At one point he protested “I used to be a teacher!” to which a wag at the front responded something along the lines of “Not a very good one then!”. He clearly didn’t manage to engage with those who had come to listen to the arguments, but that came as little surprise to those of us familiar with his style from previous encounters on social media.
Next up was Ian Crane – now as I have said before Ian isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I have little time for some of his theories outside of the world of fracking. In this debate however he spoke clearly and deliberately about the issues and was very well received. One tweet we saw read “@HarrogateDebate The second anti fracking speaker. Very engaging.”.
Ian backed up the points made by John Plummer and added a few points of his own about the impacts of fracking on local communities.
Finally it was the turn of Yorkshire B&B owner, economist and fracking expert Lorraine Allanson. Lorraine appears to only have one setting when it comes to public speaking – a stentorian monotone with which she tries to harangue the crowd into submission. We couldn’t make too much sense of what she was saying, but it seemed to be something about how all anti-frackers scaremonger and that not doing fracking would lead to the deaths of all of the old people in the country from fuel poverty. Fortunately, perhaps, the seconders only had 10 minutes each.
And so to the floor. The Harrogate Debate has a protocol that audience members can ask questions alternately – one for and one against etc. A group of people trooped off to the right of the hall and one lady headed left and valiantly spoke for the other side. From her question it seemed as though she’d got it wrong and should have been on the right hand side with the rest of us. After a series of questions which gradually demolished the suggestions made by Ken and Lorraine there was a chance for both sides to reply, and then some further questions (including another one on the opposing side, asking whether people had initially approached the issue with an open mind, which unsurprisingly received a large number of comments along the lines of “yes we did, how very patronising”). Finally each side responded before the summing up and the vote. Ken may not have helped his case by rotating his finger near his temple as his opposition was speaking. By this time it was clear that his gurning and grimacing throughout his opponents’ speeches was going down like a lead balloon, but his feedback loops did seem a bit blocked all night.
With that over – we’ll gloss over Ken’s inelegant pleas for more time (because he wasted some of his 5 minutes arguing with audience), which were ignored by the moderator – it was time for the vote.
On the way in we had all been asked to give our opinion on the motion, so that the impact of contributions to the debate could be assessed.
|For the motion||65||71|
|Against the motion||17||6|
By those counts we seemed to lose 8 people during the debate – I didn’t see anyone leave and I was on the back row, so it is possible that the count of the pros was a bit hasty, but the count of against and abstentions after the debate were correct at just 6 each.
Ever the graceful loser, Ken’s reaction on Facebook to not only losing the debate, but losing more than half of his original supporters over the course of 90 minutes was typical
Over on the FORGE facebook page Lorraine has also been licking her wounds and saying she finds watching a video of the event “quite a giggle when you watch it back“. I would have thought she’d have found it excruciatingly embarrassing, but we clearly see the world differently. She also didn’t get the memo about science being objective, saying of Ken “Of course the bulk of the audience didnt like his science, but thats nothing new“. She’s right though – we didn’t like his science – but mainly because he demonstrably lied to the audience and thought he could get away with it.
I doubt we’ll ever see Ken and Lorraine engaging in a debate with the general public again, so perhaps I should feel privileged to have been there.
But really watching their double act made me feel rather sad – for them, for science and for this country. As a school teacher might say “C minus – Could have tried harder”
I wouldn’t want to say that Ken Wilkinson is totally deficient in self-awareness, but please draw your own conclusions regarding the faint praise and gentle criticism that he delightedly quotes here: