Sunday, 19 January 2014

Cameron offers cash for fracking as IDS lives down to expectations

The government is to let councils that allow fracking to take place within their boundaries to keep 100% of the business rates generated. Chancellor George Osborne is also set to offer shale gas extraction companies the ‘most generous tax breaks in the world’ in return for setting up shop I the UK.

This isn’t a bribe though, oh dear me know; perish the thought. They don’t have to go to the trouble of bribing anyone, not since planning minister Nick Boles announced last month that fracking sites could go ahead without local people being consulted or even informed.

In a written statement reported by Mr Boles says the current rules meant a ‘disproportionately large number of individuals and businesses’ need to be informed that drilling is about to take place in their neighbourhood. The cheek of people, fancy their wanting to know someone is going to be fracking around with the ground under their feet; the only thing they need to know is their place.

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth described the move as ‘a new low in the government’s attempts to curry favour with local people.’

Lawrence Carter of Greenpeace said Mr Cameron was telling councils to ‘ignore’ the risks of fracking ‘in exchange for cold hard cash.’

Even by the not very high standards of the Cameron government this marks a new low for political cynicism. The Prime Minister knows only too well that it won’t be prosperous Tory councils in the leafier corners of the home counties who will be tempted to take a gamble on the risks fracking may pose for the future in return for a slug of desperately needed cash now; it will be bust ones in the struggling North where his party Hs few votes to lose.

The people living in areas where fracking will take place though have lots to lose; almost everything in fact.

Leave aside the environmental impact of fracking, over which scientists are still arguing the whole project is being sold to them on the basis of a huge con trick. The promised jobs bonanza is unlikely to materialise, shale gas extraction companies will bring in their own specialist staff from outside and once the reserves are used up they’ll pack their bags and go away again. As for the money generated by the business taxes so generously handed over to councils, their accountants are doubtless already planning some clever weaves and turns through to tax laws to minimise the sum paid, and we all known how brave the government is when it comes to standing up to corporate tax dodgers.

Anyway, is cheap gas really worth the potential damage to the environment caused by fracking? Probably not, with a little imagination and some courage the government could produce similar results from investing in green technology and renewable power; what a shame they are sadly lacking in both.

What are we to make of the antics of hapless French president Francois Hollande, just as he was about to announce a plan to revive the flagging Gallic economy he has been engulfed by a tsunami of scandal over his extramarital activities.

Viewed from this side of the Channel it is surprising that nobody has even suggested that a senior politician who turns his private life into a sort of Brian Rix farce might think about tendering his resignation. Were a British Prime Minister to be even suspected of playing away he would be out on his ear quicker than the Daily Mail can say moral panic.

What really mystifies me though it just what the frankly dull Mr Hollande could have done to capture the affections of two intelligent and attractive women. If nothing else it proves that power, even when ineptly wielded is an aphrodisiac.

It’s that man again, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith I mean, this week he risked accusations of homophobia by calling Labour MP Chris Bryant a ‘pantomime dame’ during a commons debate.

What he said was ‘I know Christmas is over but I think one of the pantomimes left a pantomime dame on the front bench.’ What a rib tickler eh; laugh, I thought they’d never start.

Mr Bryant has previous form when it comes to attracting playground taunts from cabinet members, in 2010 George Osborne also called him a ‘pantomime dame’, though to his credit Boy George did have the grace to apologise.

The standard od witty banter in the commons has never been high, but when someone like IDS sinks to a new low it seems all the worse. Not too long ago he was being touted as if not a ‘good Tory’ then at least one who was willing to try and understand how people who don’t spend their weekends on the grouse moor live.

This cheap crack along with his high handed attitude to the pain caused by his benefit reforms just shows that Tories change their attitudes about as readily as leopards change their spots.

Ambitious Labour Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt wants to give teachers an equivalent status to doctors and lawyers by licensing them to practice. His intentions are good, but the thinking behind them is flawed.

The status of the medical and legal professions has declined massively in recent years but what kudos they still have depends on both having a huge degree of autonomy. Politicians tread carefully around their interests, not least because there has never been a shortage of doctors and lawyers with second careers as politicians.

Their treatment of the teaching profession is far less gentle, its significant feature is a tendency to meddle with anything and everything and then to go on and meddle with it some more for good measure. For that reason a licence to practice won’t be a passport to respect for teachers, it will be just another bureaucratic hurdle thrown in their path.

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