Anti-Fracking Activists-Turned-Politicians Challenged MPs at the Polls in Lancashire

While climate change barely got a mention in the national election debates, in Lancashire the issue of fracking was by no means sidelined in the run-up to election night.

Since the news of Lancashire County Council’s announcement to further delay its decision on two Cuadrilla fracking licences until after the election, fracking stories have continued to make the news and some polls even suggested that this issue would impact local election outcomes.

Most recently, Lancashire fracking made headlines on April 27 after pro-fracking Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames was branded a ‘nimby’ for saying Lancashire – not his home county of Sussex – should be used as the test bed for fracking.

These comments echo remarks previously made by Lord Howell of Guildford (George Osborne’s father-in-law) regarding how the north east was suitable for fracking as it is “under-populated” and has many “desolate areas”.

Protesters Turned Politicians

The potential for shale gas extraction in Lancashire has been so divisive that some anti-fracking campaigners decided to take matters into their own hands and stand in the election.

DeSmog UK spoke to two such candidates during the final days of the election.

Bob Dennett, one of the founders of Frack Free Lancashire, stood for the Green Party in Fylde.

Dennett explained that he decided to get back into politics, after a long withdrawal from political engagement, once fracking threatened to become a reality in his local area.

The fracking issue cropped up and I saw that our local MP was not representing his constituents. So I decided then that I would run against him at the next election,” Dennett told DeSmog UK.

At the end of the day, my goal was to damage the incumbent Tory’s majority to such a degree that it would no longer be the sixth safest Tory seat in the country. Then, on that basis, he would have to represent his constituents. It would be a wake-up call for him.”

However, after a shocking general election overall, Conservative candidate Mark Menzies took Flyde by an overwhelming majority. Dennett received 1,381 votes representing a 1.7 percent increase for the Green Party in Flyde.

Bob Dennett. Photo by Ben Lucas

Speaking to locals. Photo by Ben Lucas

Activists often debate the degree to which they are willing to engage with the established political system, but Dennett still believes elections can change things.

I have had disagreements with people about running for parliament. They have told me that I was changing sides. Well, we need to change this system. We’re not going to change it from the outside.”

A Better System

Tina Louise Rothery, an Occupy and long-standing anti-fracking activist, ran as the Green Party candidate against George Osborne in Tatton. While she lost to Osborne, Rothery agreed that it is possible to take your protest to the ballot box.

When you think about it, to me, it is quite strange in the activist world because a lot of people won’t engage in politics because that’s the ‘bad system’; we are about creating the better one,” Rothery explained.

But I excuse it in the sense that I am running as an activist. Yes, build the alternatives, but you could still do with a few more bodies on the inside dismantling the old system and at least bringing some truth and transparency to it.”

She continued: “You look at the difference one Green MP has made. Caroline Lucas has brought conversations into that house that would have never been raised, so I think [a] voice in there would make a difference.”

Rothery received 1,714 votes representing a 3.8 percent increase for the Green Party in Tatton. Lucas was re-elected MP for Brighton Pavillion with a remarkable 10.5 percent increase in votes.

In addition, Anne Power – winner of the Obsever Ethical ‘Local Hero’ Award 2014 for her dedication to the anti-fracking demonstrations at Barton Moss – also ran to be a Green MP for Wyre and Preston North. Power lost to the Conservatives but, following the trend, also saw a 3.5 percent increase in votes for the Green Party.

While both Dennett and Rothery were aware that the chances of winning their respective election battles were slim, they still felt that it was – and is – important to maintain the momentum of the anti-fracking campaign.

As Rothery put it: “You have to challenge. If you don’t challenge you just accept.”

On the campaign trail. Photo by Ben Lucas


Photo: Ben Lucas