Whither (or should that be withered) democracy?
As we wait to find out what decision the Planning Inspector recommended to determine Cuadrilla’s appeal on the Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood applications, and how it will be supported, or otherwise, by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, it has been interesting to listen to the pronouncements made on the subject of local democracy and the determination of planning applications by two of his colleagues this week.
On “Any Questions” on Radio 4 on 23rd September we heard Brandon Lewis MP, ex Planning Minister and now Policing Minister, (nice Hi-Vis jacket and helmet by the way Brandon), talking about fracking in Ryedale, say [about 28 minutes in]
In terms of the decision here locally, it is a decision made by locally elected councillors, who are locally democratically accountable, as part of the planning process…well as I say I appreciate that my answer may not be popular but the reality is those councillors have to ..will have had to have made a decision.. I haven’t seen the papers from .. that case today but those councillors, when they look at a planning application will have to look at all the evidence put in front of them and make a decision about what they think is right, as locally elected councillors for their area and I think it is absolutely right that these decisions are made by local people through their local authority. That is how our democratic system works. [Boos from the audience]
Just in case anyone thinks he got carried away and didn’t mean it he re-iterated his position on Twitter later the same day:
He airily stated, speaking specifically about fracking, that
We have given local populations the right, which I think they should have, to decide whether they want it done in their own place.
which will come as news to anyone in Lancashire who is awaiting, with bated breath, a decision from the top levels of national government on whether the local democratic decision taken by Lancashire County Council will in fact be overturned by central government diktat.
Of course if these two senior politicians are treading the party line then we can all look forward to Mr Javid endorsing the decision taken by Lancashire County Council.
If, however, Mr Javid takes a less democratic view of the affair and decides to impose fracking on the local population is spite of the democratic decision “made by local people through their local authority” then Brandon Lewis may find himself busy in his new job as Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Services.
When democracy breaks down and local people discover that not only are they being ignored but normal legitimate channels are denied to them then protest and civil disobedience starts to look reasonable, even to those who previously had little or no political engagement, as it is the only way to make your voice heard.
I, for one, would regard it as terribly sad if such a situation was precipitated because the government’s “dash for gas” is blinding it to the fact that fracking has no social licence, but it is a rather obvious potential outcome if people learn the government is picking and choosing what it wants from the democratic process.
Next week may well be the start of some very “interesting times” in Lancashire.
Let’s hope Mr Javid realises thatDemocracy isn’t a pick and mix
Update – We are delighted that Backing Fracking (loving the new website by the way) pays such attention to whatever we post.
The BF Facebook page now contains a lengthy attempt at rebutting this article, but totally ignores the point being made which is the disconnect between what is said by these Conservative politicians and what is done, and the way in which the planning system is skewed towards allowing applicants and the government to get the result they want as long as they keep going higher up the chain.
If you are in any doubt about the influence exerted by central government on planning issues I suggest you read this excellent article on Counterbalance.
It seems that whoever was having that particular rant saw my closing paragraphs as ” thinly veiled threats about civil disobedience and direct action“. I’m sorry that he or she sees civil disobedience as a threat – it is normally considered a reasonable and proportionate method of protest against a policy or act which is genuinely believed to be unreasonable in itself.
Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. Of course our friend BackingFracking would probably have condemned Gandhi (who used civil disobedience as a very effective means of protest) if he’d opposed fracking instead of the Indian government of his day. And I wonder if he knows his friend Ken Wilkinson doesn’t seem to be averse to a bit of civil disobedience and trespass?
I am a bit mystified as to why he seems to be equating “protest” with “direct action” – that is going a bit far even for our rabid fracking friends.
They must be worried!
And as a final tribute we are delighted to see that they have picked up on my “pic and mix ” image and used the same picture. Not that they are lazy or unoriginal or anything like that …