‘We are entitled to a government that is on our side, in return for the taxes we pay. In the matter of unconventional oil and gas, we do not have a government that is on our side. We have a government that is the enemy of the people.’
John Ashton, a career diplomat who served as the UK’s Special Representative for Climate Change from 2006-2012, had prepared a speech for a meeting in Sussex on the health effects of fracking, but was unable to attend because of family illness. His speech was read by a resident of Balcombe, the village renowned for its protests against fracking. You can read the full text below.
Other speakers at the meeting included an advisor on health and energy for medical charity Medact; the Executive Director of CHEM Trust; and a GP from Ryedale in Yorkshire, an area on the front line of fracking. Read a report of the meeting in the Mid Sussex Times
Statement by John Ashton
Read by Helen Savage at a public meeting on fracking and health at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath on April 16, 2016
I’m so sorry I can’t be here today.
My mother fell ill just after Christmas. She is now very poorly.
At the daybreak of my life, my mother cared for me as only a mother can. In the evening of her life, my place is by her side, at her home in Newcastle, caring for her as only a son can.
In 3 months of caring for my mother, I have learned more about the condition of our country than I ever did in 30 years as a diplomat.
My mother is bearing her ordeal with fortitude beyond words. But her ordeal would not have been bearable at all without the compassion, dedication and competence of dozens of doctors, nurses, carers, and other professionals in public services that we all come to rely on sooner or later.
My mother’s generation pioneered our proudest achievement as a nation, the greatest promise we have ever made, that when we are too sick, too frail, or too vulnerable to care for ourselves, we will in our moments of need be cared for by our country. From the cradle to the grave, we are one people together. We care for each other.
The institutions we built to fulfill that promise are now stretched to their limits. Anyone who goes through what my mother is going through can see that. Many of you will have seen it for yourselves.
Unless we urgently summon the will to repair those institutions, the generation that pioneered our greatest promise will also be the last on whom it is bestowed.
This is not a matter of money. It is a matter of will. If we can rediscover our care for each other as one people we will find we can easily afford to renew the institutions that make our care manifest. We are one of the wealthiest nations ever to have existed on this Earth.
The struggle to renew our public services is a struggle between two incompatible ideas of who we are.
Do we live in a compassionate society where we care for each other? Or do we live in a selfish society where we strive only for our own gratification, and the gratification of our own families and social tribes, regardless of the consequences for others?
The struggle to protect our country against the extraction of oil and gas by unconventional methods including fracking is not a different struggle. It is a different front in the same struggle.
The speculative drillers and investors and the opportunistic politicians who seek advantage from the unconventional extraction of oil and gas do not make their homes in the places where it will actually happen if they get their way.
It will be you not they who will have to live with the consequences of this intrusive project: the industrialization of your countryside; the risks to your physical and mental health and to your environment; the dislocation of your communities and your social fabric.
And as for the climate, it is perfectly clear. You can be in favour of fracking and other methods for getting ever more oil and gas out of the ground. Or you can be in favour of dealing with climate change. But you cannot be in favour of both at the same time. Those who claim otherwise are either deceiving themselves or trying to deceive you.
We are entitled to a government that is on our side, in return for the taxes we pay.
In the matter of unconventional oil and gas, we do not have a government that is on our side. We have a government that is the enemy of the people.
When is fracking not fracking? When you change how it is defined, with no regard for any objective measure of science or engineering, so that the new definition suddenly excludes many of the disruptive operations that companies like UKOG, Cuadrilla, INEOS-IGas and Celtique want to engage in up and down our country, including here in the Weald.
Well, we now have a new law, the Infrastructure Act, that does exactly that. All of a sudden, with a flourish of a Westminster pen, there will now be far less fracking than we thought, because what would have qualified as fracking – and still would if it were to take place in America – has rather conveniently been redefined as “not fracking”.
But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and that’s not just true for roses. For all the sweet words of those who want you to welcome in the drillers, those are no roses they are offering you. And whatever name you give them, the stench they are giving off is unmistakable.
Only if you know that fracking will be a burden to those who have to live with it do you try so hard to pull the wool over their eyes. Only if you see the people as your enemy do you play with words in such a cynical way.
This Orwellian piece of deception is so clumsy it would not deceive a child. But those politicians, civil servants, and business lobbyists who have connived at it should be ashamed of themselves. Whom do they take us for?
They will never get their way here in our Weald, nor anywhere up and down our country.
It is in rooms like this that the struggle to repair our democracy and renew our great public services and institutions will be played out. It is people like you, making a stand for the communities and countryside you love, who will banish once and for all the hollow and pernicious lie that we can ever again stand tall as one people if we stand on selfishness and gratification alone.
You are on the front line in a struggle for the soul of our country. It is a struggle we shall win, because when the chips are down we are and always shall be one people together, one people who care for each other. That is the country into which my mother brought me and it is the country I love.
If I were not in Newcastle today, I would be proud to be here with you. So too would my Mum. Since we cannot be here, we send you all our warmest greetings and best wishes.