‘Now Fracking is Finally Here, It Can’t be Ignored’: An Interview with Green Party Candidate Tina Rothery

Tina Rotheray and Green party leader Caroline Lucas

Tina Rothery is standing as the Green party candidate in the Fylde, an area on the frontline of the UK's fledgling shale gas industry.

She is running against Conservative Mark Menzies, who won the seat by around 13,000 votes in 2015.

But a vote for her and the Green party is not just a vote against Menzies, she told me over the phone. It's also a statement: that local opposition to fracking can't be ignored.

The following is an abbreviated transcript of our interview.

What made you want to run in the general election? Why are you standing for the Green Party?

In the area we’re in, the Fylde, it’s a safe Conservative seat. It’s very far from a marginal and there’s always at least a 30 percent gap. And there are a lot of voters here, a lot of people coming to it for the first time, who aren’t necessarily going to vote for Labour. So as we can’t change the national picture, we still need to give them a way of saying ‘we don’t want fracking’.

Because a lot of people around here, whatever their political persuasion, are now suddenly finding that they’re going to be living in a gas field and that the industrialisation is going to impact their house price, their quality of life, the character of where they live, and ultimately the health and wellbeing of the people that live here. And you need to give people a way of saying that.

It’s a two horse race, and it’s the same two horses. They keep it a two horse race by not changing the system. So I think it’s essential that we give people a way of saying that democracy failed us when we submitted all our thousands of planning application rejections. And all of a sudden we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve been overruled by Westminster, we are powerless and voiceless. And I think it’s an important opportunity for people to make a statement.

You’ve been at the forefront of the fracking movement in the Fylde. How has the issue featured in your general election campaign?

It’s quite amazing. It’s coming up as the most important topic every time.

What astounds me is that Labour and the Lib Dems are of course now on board. But if it wasn’t for the Green voice in parliament over the last six years, would this subject have made its way into the other parties’ manifestos?

Because the Green party thinks more than five years and a short-term cycle ahead. We’re constantly thinking about the future - how does this fit into that future, and are we kept safe? And certainly with fracking you can’t just look five years ahead, you have to be looking a lot further ahead.

We have someone like Caroline Lucas who actually makes an impact in parliament and keeps the subjects on the floor that really need to be discussed, and we need a lot more Carolines.

By running here, not only do we give people an ability to say we don’t want fracking. We run the chance of reducing a safe seat in a system that makes it so difficult to change parliament at all. And for me it’s a way of reminding people this isn’t just about going red or blue, it’s about diversity of representation in Westminster.

Cuadrilla has just erected its first rig at the Preston New Road site, albeit not for drilling; what does that mean from local people’s perspectives?

In 2015, when fracking first came up on the election agenda in the Fylde, there were three candidates who claimed they were running on an anti-fracking agenda. Labour wasn’t with us on the issue yet. And those candidates together equalled the Labour share of the vote.

It was a subject that mattered then when it wasn’t a live site. Now that it is a live site, it’s a conversation that everyone’s having. Because now it’s finally here, it can’t be ignored.

We’re always told by the pro-fracking people that there is a silent majority in favour. I can say from door-knocking that categorically ‘no’, that’s a lie. There is a huge majority just hoping that those of us on the frontline will win.

They don’t know how to fight, they’ve never had to do it before. They’re out of their depth. And when the government overruled [Lancashire County Council’s objections to Cuadrilla’s plans], it left people perplexed as to what tools are left. How do we defend our communities when something as blatantly dangerous as this is on its way, and yet it’s government sanctioned?

And all of the vehicles have a police wrap-around, so when you’re confronting them, you’re confronting authority.

A lot of the population here is elderly in Lytham and Wrea Green and places like that, and they maybe trusted the Conservatives all their lives. And they’re now looking for an outlet. They’re angry and they’re upset.

Is fracking the only local green issue in the area? What other issues are you and your constituents concerned about?

I was helping register homeless voters with Streetlife, using the Streetlife address. And a lot of them are from Europe, and they don’t want to not be in Europe. And they’re upset they don’t have a voice in that.

And they don’t know what Brexit means? Noone does, we’ve established that. What does Brexit actually look like? For young people that’s a key issue, because they want their freedom in Europe.

Young people are also concerned about the legalisation and decriminalisation of drugs, because they’re worried about the mental health of their friends who are taking even just marijuana and the various strong strains there are.

Here, it’s mainly about fracking, but also the infrastructure around it. People are worried fracking is going to decimate the quality of our roads, and one day the industry is going to leave and we’re going to pick up the tab in our taxes.

It’s very hard to switch off my local activist and switch into polite politics, because i’m sitting across from Labour or Conservatives who are saying ‘this time we;re going to do this, or this is wrong’ and i’m thinking ‘yeah but you two are the guys who make it wrong. You make it wrong every time. And you come back and tell us the last time was bad, we’re going to do it better’, and expect us to believe it.

Theresa May refused to condemn Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal in any strong terms last week; what do you think this says about the state of climate change policy and politics in the UK at the moment?

I think it says we need a heck of a lot more Caroline Lucas’ in parliament. If we hadn’t been there, if you hadn’t had the Green party for all these decades constantly being a warning sign and putting up with the ridicule, then we wouldn’t even be as far as we are today.

We’re about to fall out of Europe, and if we fall out of Europe we lose our safeguards, we possibly fall into trade deals with people like Trump that have no respect, no concern, and are not forward-looking.

What’s your main message for the people of the Fylde? Why should they vote for you?

Because I genuinely give a damn what happens to the Fylde and have fought relentlessly for six years.

I’m not a typical politician, I actually do stand up for the community. And i’m really honoured by the people i’ve stood beside within this community. And I think we need to strengthen ourselves.

And I see this election of making a statement that the red guys and the blue guys have messed us about.

It was Labour who issued the license for the fracking site in 2008, it’s the Conservatives who are pushing it through and driving it through like a steamroller through our community. We are the only party that has always had our best interest at heart.

Vote and make that statement. That’s important.

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