14th July 2014: Journey's end, and new beginnings » 2014 » Mobbsey's Musings » Paul Mobbs/MEI » FRAW

Rainsborough quote
St. Mary's, Putney
– location of the Putney Debates

Journey's end, and new beginnings: Musing on the road travelled and the path ahead

Paul Mobbs, Mobbsey's Musings, 14th July 2014
(transcribed 17th July 2014)

Published in 'The Ecologist', 21st July 2014, under the title, "Fracking Britain: without debate, the Government imposes its 'right to rule'"

I'm sitting in the café at St. Mary's Church, Putney[1]. When travelling to London there are a few non-corporate cafés I frequent. Normally Friends House[2], or few places on the edge of central London. On my recent travels through London I've been trying to get here as it's a nice place to sit and ponder – with its own unique and prophetic story to tell.

I've had almost a year of gigs and lectures, hours travelling on trains, and a wonderfully weird bus trip[3]. I've been writing, researching, travelling and talking for longer than I can mentally piece together, and I'm so tired; but today I've finished that journey with my last appointment. Now – imbibing the atmosphere of this place – I can focus on what comes next.

For the past three days I've been at the Frack Free South Wales[4] gathering, at the beautiful Green Valley Arts[5] site on the south side of the Black Mountain – camping in a ravine next to some waterfalls on Afon Llynfell at Cwm-twrch Uchaf[6] (go on, try to pronounce that!). I got home last night about 8pm, quickly checked my email, and after a few hours sleep got an early train to London. OK, this is a tiring job, but I can't complain about its fringe benefits!

In Wales I met a lot of people who, just a few months ago, didn't know about "fracking" and the Government's project to carve-up the country for hydrocarbons exploration. Despite an uncooperative and often indifferent mainstream media, we've got the message across at the grassroots. Many more people now know there's a problem[7] with unconventional energy sources; and that there will be no public debate[8] on its implementation or its impacts upon health[9] and the climate[10].

Now I'm trying to get people, especially the "fractivists" carrying the movement, to focus on 'what comes next' – to be proactive instead of reactive.

The Government's strongly anti-environmental/pro-fossil fuels agenda has been coming for some time. As I've been talking about for a year or so, we just have to trace the influences on policy[11] to see where it's come from and where it's heading.

It started with David Cameron's recruitment of the Australian lobbyist Lynton Crosby[12] – the architect of Cameron's new policy to "get rid of the green crap"[13]. That grew into a set of policies which made the environment expendable[14] in order to maintain, forlornly, the great mantra of "growth". To learn more, there are many parallels with the dismantling of the 'green agenda'[15] in Australia, and also Canada[16]. [update – the day after writing this happened[17]]

What I've tried to get people to understand is that we've been here before; where social movements sought to oppose a seemingly insurmountable political agenda. If we want to understand "what happens next" there are two relatively recent examples we can learn from.

Firstly, the campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops, the response of the agribusiness lobby, and how that influenced Government policy.

In 1996 I got a list of the sites across Britain where genetically modified crops were being tested from the Health and Safety Executive – and put it on my web site. A short while later, spontaneously, people started to pull up the crops. One of the groups I subsequently became involved with was genetiX snowball[18], which drew many influences from the peace movement.

genetiX snowball was a great campaign... Then came the civil injunctions from the High Court.

The problem with mass civil resistance is that the authorities can't police it effectively. Criminal law requires clear proof and due process. That creates a problem for the Government when trying to enforce the law against people who want to challenge it – the dismissal[19] of many legal cases brought against the protectors at Balcombe[20] and Barton Moss[21] being a good example. Heavy-handed police tactics[22] have also helped our cause.

What we haven't seen yet – and what had a great impact upon the anti-GM crops protests – is the application of the civil law[23] (seriously, read this link!).

Come 2015, when the companies involved will start spending the money they've amassed as part of their recent consolidations[24], I think we'll start to see that happen. A breach of an interim injunction gives the police and bailiffs draconian powers to act – as was the case during the roads protests, or when the CAA sought "the mother of all injunctions"[25] to prevent protests at Heathrow.

I've been watching some of the leading corporate law firms lately. As the protests grow I think they see shale gas as a nice little earner. The oil and gas companies will not risk their millions without some form of legal protection; interim injunctions[26] deliver that. They can seek an injunction covering an identified area in advance of starting exploration works, and, before it gets properly examined in court, the company may have already completed their exploratory drilling.

Injunctions are not the end of the world. Over my three decades as a campaigner I've collected a few, and whilst they make life difficult it doesn't necessary block progress. Nearly twenty years later, and we still don't have the widespread cultivation of GM crops in Britain – although the UK Government is part of an EU-lobby[27] to return regulatory powers to member states which might change that.

What's worse is when the state itself seeks to subvert groups directly. Given the political reputations staked on this policy, we can't rule-out such possibilities.

On that point, the other past example I want to draw your attention to is how the police and Government deliberately brought down the animal rights movement in Britain – specifically the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty[28] (SHAC) campaign, or the SPEAK[29] protests outside Oxford University[30].

SHAC began in the late 1990s in response to growing evidence about the mistreatment of animals at the Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) laboratory – a site which undertook commercial animal testing, and which had been caught mistreating animals[31]. SPEAK began as a response to proposals at Cambridge, and then Oxford University to carry out tests on primates.

Irrespective of the whys and wherefores of these campaigns, animal rights protests made the police tighten-up their act when policing protest – ushering-in the system we're subject to today.

During the early 2000s campaigners started to widen their campaign, successfully, to the laboratory's suppliers and contractors. At the time the pro-science Labour Government saw this as a threat to the industry, and one which represented a problematic shift from the site-specific protests of the 1990s. In response the police targeted not only those taking action[32], but also their supporters holding street stalls/collections[33]. Leading activists[34] were later imprisoned, and that process continues[35] right up to the present.

The results of these campaigns are mixed. The numbers of animal tests[36] carried out in Britain on rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and birds have fallen over the last 15 years – and primate tests have halved. Overall though the total number of tests has increased, mainly through the use of more (often genetically modified[60]) mice, fish, reptiles and horses/donkeys.

It was from around the time of anti-GM/animal rights protests that we saw the law being used to stifle dissent directly. First the extension of anti-trades union powers[37] to protests (used recently at Balcombe and Barton Moss); then specialist corporate lawyers[38] extended new legislation on harassment[39] to protests; and finally, under the new label of "domestic extremism", anti-terror legislation was extended to SHAC and others.

The promotion of that catch-all "domestic extremist" label was possibly the most insidious. It led to the police running disinformation campaigns[40] in the media (which they were later forced to withdraw[41]). Even so, the label began to be applied to any protest or dissent – even people peacefully praying against the removal of their sacred bull[42]. This whole process was exemplified in the handbook for police officers[43], produced by the (now disbanded) National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit[44] (NETCU).

Ultimately though, we have to look upon these connected issues as an exemplar of a state which has 'fallen out of love' with its people. And where, in lieu of an open democratic debate, coercive force legitimated by the power of the state is the becoming easiest option to push through unpopular policies.

Today the scandal of Mark Kennedy, the "secret policeman"[45], and his spying on Climate Camp occasionally surfaces in the news. In fact those tactics had been perfected during the previous decade as part of the police and Government response to the anti-GM and animal rights movement.

I've been "watching them watching me" for a while now. Back in 2009 I wrote a lengthy tome on their work, Britain's Secretive Police Force[46]. And, despite the subsequent public scandals, reorganisations, spying[47], surveillance, blacklisting[48] and close co-operation between police and corporate security[49], that agenda continues.

For example, I work with Britain's leading ethical Internet provider, GreenNet[50], who recently co-sponsored a legal case[51] against the Government and GCHQ to overturn the surveillance of the Internet. Within days the Government rushed through "emergency" legislation[52] to try to render their unlawful actions legal.

OK then, why am I here in this church partaking of their excellent coffee and pasta salad?

This little-known church is at one end of a historic path which leads to my home – and it's a path which illustrates our greater problems today. I like to come here occasionally to remind me that, when we look at our oft-overlooked social history, nothing is as impossible as it may seem.

In October and November 1647, in the pause between the Civil Wars, this church was the site of the Putney Debates[53] between Parliament and the radical 'Leveller' wing of the army. It is reputedly the first time in Britain that 'common' people negotiated with their 'betters' over the principles for how they were to be governed.

The Levellers[54] sought to usher in such revolutionary concepts as 'one man one vote', equally sized constituencies, and – though still not achieved today – the idea that Parliament should serve the people and not have mastery over them. Though the language is archaic, their words were prophetic[55]; the most famous of which is the statement by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, celebrated on the walls of St. Mary's church (above the Levellers exhibition) –

For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it clear that every Man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own Consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.

However, such free speech could not last. In April 1649, following the failure of Cromwell and 'the grandees' to negotiate a political settlement, Leveller-led army units refused orders to go to Ireland and mutinied. From across Britain Levellers converged on my home town, Banbury[56], where they declared the illegitimacy of Parliament – only to be attacked by Cromwell's loyalists days later, and their leaders killed or executed at Wellingborough and Burford while trying to escape.

The issue we face today has little to do with the specifics of "hydraulic fracturing". It's that same 365-year old problem embodied in these walls. Irrespective of the evidence on the impacts of unconventional fossil fuels, the Government believes that it has the power to do something because it has the 'right to rule'; in response a growing number of people[57] believe the opposite is true.

There are already splits within the Conservative Party[58] over fracking. How this contention turns out nationally will depend on whether the movement is willing to bear the burden of that struggle. It's going to be a trial of attrition; of court injunctions, of media spin, negative campaigns, and the indifference of a Government which – as outlined in David Cameron's speech to the CBI[59] in November 2012 – is deliberately seeking to curtail our civil rights. It's exactly what we see in Canada or Australia today, except they're a year or so ahead in this process.

In the end, as exemplified by the history of St. Mary's, the power of the state can't win in the long-run if the people continue to make a stand. Irrespective of the threats to the contrary, we must hang on to the objective truth that the Government is peddling an ideological agenda, based upon belief not evidence. As long as we can halt the progress of the industry for long enough, that reality will inevitably break today's political impasse, and fracking's bogus promises.


  1. Wikipedia: 'St. Mary's Church, Putney'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mary%27s_Church,_Putney
  2. Quaker Centre Café, Friends House, 173-177 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ – http://www.quaker.org.uk/quakercentre
  3. Talk Frackinghttp://www.talkfracking.org/
  4. Frack Free Waleshttp://www.frackfreewales.org/
  5. Green Valley Artshttp://www.greenvalleyarts.co.uk/
  6. Streetmap: 'Cwm-twrch Uchaf'http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=275352&Y=211587&A=Y&Z=130&ax=275352&ay=211587
  7. Fracking is the death spasm of a defunct economic order, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 5th March 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2308230/fracking_is_the_death_spasm_of_a_defunct_economic_order.html
  8. Fracking – you are not important, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 24th June 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2450429/fracking_you_are_not_important.html
  9. Shale gas and public health – the whitewash exposed, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 6th May 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2385900/shale_gas_and_public_health_the_whitewash_exposed.html
  10. Fracking 'as bad for climate as coal' – UK's dodgy dossier exposed, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 30th May 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2417288/fracking_as_bad_for_climate_as_coal_uks_dodgy_dossier_exposed.html
  11. "Behind every picture lies a story" – statistical reality versus PR-hype within the political project of unconventional gas in Britain, Paul Mobbs, Mobbsey's Musings, 25th July 2013 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/musings/2013/20130725-behind_every_picture_lies_a_story.html
  12. Lynton Crosby: David Cameron's Lizard of Oz, Debra Jopson, The Observer, Sunday 21st July 2013 – http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2013/jul/21/lynton-crosby-cameron-lizard-oz
  13. David Cameron orders aides to 'get rid of the green crap', Adam Bienkov, Politics.co.uk, Thursday 21st November 2013 – http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2013/11/21/david-cameron-orders-aides-to-get-rid-of-the-green-crap
  14. George Osborne is preparing to kill off Britain's renewable energy revolution, Ashley Seager, Guardian On-line, Thursday 20th March 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/mar/20/george-osborne-budget-kill-renewable-energy-revolution-tax-break
  15. Four Corners: 'Power to the People' (video), Stephen Long and Karen Michelmore, ABC News Australia, 8th July 2014 – http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2014/07/07/4038488.htm
  16. Canada's Big, Ugly Environmental Problem, Jordan Larson, Pacific Standard Magazine, 3rd July 2014 – http://www.psmag.com/navigation/nature-and-technology/transcanada-keystone-pipeline-canadas-big-ugly-environmental-problem-84646/
  17. David Cameron's reshuffle gets rid of the 'green crap', Damian Carrington, Guardian On-line, Tuesday 15th July 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2014/jul/15/cameron-reshuffle-owen-paterson-liz-truss
  18. genetiX snowball: a campaign of non-violent civil responsibilityhttp://www.gene.ch/pmhp/gs/
  19. Sussex police under fire for 'criminalising' fracking protests, Sandra Laville, The Guardian, Thursday 15th May 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/15/sussex-police-criminalising-fracking-protest-acquittals-balcombe
  20. Fracking: the Battle of Balcombe is far from over, Michael White, Guardian On-line, Tuesday 20th August 2013 – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/2013/aug/20/fracking-balcombe-sussex-gas
  21. Victory For Salford Protectors In First Barton Moss Trials, Salford Star, 28th April 2014 – http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=2250
  22. Barton Moss: who is policing Greater Manchester Police?, David Cullen, The Ecologist, 9th April 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2347997/barton_moss_who_is_policing_greater_manchester_police.html
  23. Shale Gas Toolkit, Part 4: Managing Protest Action, Pinsent Mason, September 2013 – http://www.pinsentmasons.com/PDF/ShaleGasFrackingPart4.pdf
  24. IGas acquires Dart Energy to create UK's biggest shale gas explorer, Terry Macalister, Guardian On-line, Friday 9th May 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/09/igas-acquires-dart-energy-biggest-shale-gas-explorer
  25. 'Bullying' BAA seeks Heathrow protest injunction, Alison Benjamin, Guardian On-line, Wednesday 1st August 2007 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/aug/01/travelandtransport.transportintheuk
  26. Interim injunctions, Out-Law, May 2013 – http://www.out-law.com/topics/dispute-resolution-and-litigation/injuctions/interim-injunctions/
  27. New GMO legislation would put 'power in hands' of biotech companies, Mute Schimpf, EU Parliament Magazine, 23rd June 2014 – https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/news/new-gmo-legislation-would-put-power-hands-biotech-companies
  28. Wikipedia: 'Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Huntingdon_Animal_Cruelty
  29. Wikipedia: 'SPEAK campaign'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPEAK_campaign
  30. On the frontline in war over Oxford animal laboratory, Mark Honigsbaum and Alok Jha, The Guardian, Saturday 14th January 2006 – http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/jan/14/businessofresearch.uk
  31. SourceWatch: 'Huntingdon Life Sciences'http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Huntingdon_Life_Sciences
  32. Animal rights activists involved in bid to shut lab among 30 arrested in raids, Sandra Laville, The Guardian, Wednesday 2nd May 2007 – http://www.theguardian.com/science/2007/may/02/businessofresearch.ukcrime
  33. Police crack down on animal rights fundraising stalls, Sandra Laville, The Guardian, Thursday 22nd February 2007 – http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/feb/22/topstories3.animalwelfare
  34. Animal rights activists jailed for terrorising suppliers to Huntingdon Life Sciences, Matthew Weaver, Guardian On-line, Monday 25th October 2010 – http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/oct/25/animal-research-animal-welfare
  35. Undercover policeman poses as corporate security manager to convict animal rights activist, Rob Evans, Guardian On-line, Wednesday 16th April 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/undercover-with-paul-lewis-and-rob-evans/2014/apr/16/huntingdon-life-sciences-research
  36. Statistics of scientific procedures on living animals, Great Britain 2012, National Statistics/Home Office, September 2013 – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statistics-of-scientific-procedures-on-living-animals-great-britain-2012
  37. NECTU Guide: 'Intimidation or annoyance by violence to prevent unlawful activity', Free Range Activism On-line Library – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/netcu_2007/index.html#twoone
  38. High court injunction: the weapon of choice to slap down protests, Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, The Guardian, Tuesday 27th October 2009 – http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/oct/27/high-court-injunctions-protests
  39. NECTU Guide: 'Offence of harassment', Free Range Activism On-line Library – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/netcu_2007/index.html#oneeig
  40. Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists, Mark Townsend, The Observer, Sunday November 9th 2008 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/publications/q-series/q02/q02-section_3.html#article
  41. The readers' editor on… anonymous sources and claims of eco-terrorism, Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, Sunday 23rd November 2008 – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/nov/23/readers-editor-climate-change
  42. Slaughter fight for 'sacred' bull, BBC News On-line, Wednesday 9th May 2007 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/6637359.stm
  43. Policing Protest: Pocket Legislation Guide, Association of Chief Police Officers (Terrorism and Allied Matters), 2007 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/netcu_2007/index.html
  44. Wikipedia: 'National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Extremism_Tactical_Co-ordination_Unit
  45. Undercover officer spied on green activists, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, The Guardian, Sunday 9th January 2011 – http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/jan/09/undercover-office-green-activists
  46. Britain's Secretive Police Force: Politicising the Policing of Public Expression in an Era of Economic Change, Paul Mobbs, April 2009 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/publications/q-series/q02/q02-intro.html
  47. Police buy software to map suspects' digital movements, Ryan Gallagher and Rajeev Syal, The Guardian, Wednesday 11th May 2011 – http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/11/police-software-maps-digital-movements
  48. Police colluded in secret plan to blacklist 3,200 building workers, Daniel Boffey, The Observer, Saturday 12th October 2013 – http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/12/police-blacklist-construction-workers-watchdog
  49. Revealed: how energy firms spy on environmental activists, Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, The Guardian, Monday 14th February 2011 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/feb/14/energy-firms-activists-intelligence-gathering
  50. GreenNethttp://www.gn.apc.org/
  51. ISPs take legal action against GCHQ over mass network infrastructure surveillance, Alex Scroxton, Computer Weekly, Wednesday 2nd July 2014 – http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240223816/ISPs-take-legal-action-against-GCHQ-over-mass-network-infrastructure-surveillance
  52. Unprecedented new powers in surveillance bill, campaigners warn, Alan Travis and James Ball, The Guardian, Sunday 13th July 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/13/surveillance-bill-new-powers
  53. The Putney Debateshttp://www.putneydebates.com/
  54. Wikipedia: 'Levellers'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levellers
  55. Wikipedia: 'Agreement of the People'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreement_of_the_People
  56. Wikipedia: 'Banbury mutiny'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banbury_mutiny
  57. British fracking support falls below 50%, poll shows, Adam Vaughan, The Guardian, Monday 19th May 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/19/fracking-uk-shale-gas
  58. Fracking isn't the future for many voters, Elizabeth Anderson, Conservative Home, 22nd June 2014 – http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2014/06/elizabeth-anderson-fracking-isnt-the-future-for-many-voters.html
  59. Prime Minister's speech to CBI, Prime Minister's Office, 19th November 2012 – https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-speech-to-cbi
  60. Wikipedia: 'Genetically modified mouse'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_mouse