Fracking should be a defining issue in the general election. We should work hard to make sure it isn't a footnote. If the scale of gas is anything like the claims made by its advocates, it has major implications for the economy and British society. Besides its worrying environmental aspects, it could have adverse effects on income distribution.
Recall that governments recklessly mishandled
It is too early to suggest that fracking offers anything like that. But it is time to be prepared for any eventuality. The coalition government's plans for fracking are a licence to legalised corruption. Those Tory balls described in the Guardian recently showed that representatives of the industry are big Conservative donors. Will they want nothing in return?
The government is giving public subsidies to fracking firms, backed up by pounds 100,000 "bribes" to local authorities to let them frack in their areas. Rather than an independent commission determining whether drilling should take place, these decisions are to be made by
That aside, the reserves - regardless of size - do not belong to Pickles or anybody else to give away. They are public, common wealth which should not be converted into private riches. This is where Labour and Greens, and anybody calling themselves progressive, should make a stand. All should state unequivocally that if fracking is to go ahead - and many of us remain opposed - then the people of this country should be the primary beneficiaries and decision-makers, not a plutocracy and a few multinational corporations. No fracking without representation.
A democratically governed national fracking fund should be set up, perhaps similar to what
Rightwing critics might cavil that this would amount to "giving something for nothing". But this is what those who inherit wealth obtain; they have not done a day's labour for it. They gain a lot for doing nothing, and the inheritance of wealth is a growing source of inequality.
At the moment, there are no levers to check the growing inequality. Capital is taxed much less than labour; subsidies going to capital, the rich and middle-income earners greatly exceed the benefits going to the precariat and underclass. A national capital fund, allied with a social dividend scheme, would be one lever to redress the imbalance.
There are details to be worked out, but what is crucial now is that progressive parties tell us what they would do if fracking goes ahead. Does Labour have the courage and intellect to try to make this a major issue in the election? If not, we will know that it does not want to talk about big ideas, or to respond to structural inequality and the shrinking common wealth.
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