do-not-flushjpg-3943d2bbe25405cfAhead of the Spectator Debate next week, the Spectator Magazine Coffeehouse Blog asked me to give them five green myths about shale gas - in a sentence or two each.

Firstly, despite the Spectator trying to set this up as some sort of right/left boxing match, I don’t see the debate in that way at all. Oil and gas is about the last communally held national resource that hasn’t been sold off, i.e. it’s Crown property and everyone in the UK is an owner of it, and that includes voters of all parties. So in that vein I’ll give one myth per political party.

Before I do so, I’ll repeat what I told the Guardian earlier this year: trying to put complex ideas into one sentence is not only rhetorically wrong but morally unsafe as it insults the intelligence of readers. There’s a great piece from David Shukman of the BBC today which highlights the issue of everyone wanting nothing anywhere near them. But of course, it isn’t everyone. The rational middle realises there are choices to make. All we can do is to try to make them informed and intelligent ones.

So, in order of share of popular vote in the 2010 election, here’s six blue, red, yellow, purple, black and green myths about shale gas.  

The (36.1%) Tory myth is UK shale gas will lower prices, a subset of which is that Greens rightly point out shale won’t change international gas prices. In this case, Tories can still gain comfort from how international gas prices are coming down anyway, an outcome where (again) Greens live in the past of peak oil. Either way, all UK parties share a basic fiction that whatever the UK does, or does not do, means anything to anyone else of much significance.  However, the Tories do get that since we're going to use natural gas anyway, instead of buying even more Ferraris for the Qataris, shovelling more cash to Norwegians who already have more money than Thor, or buying tanks for the Yanks in the coming US shale to LNG stage, let's stop exporting cash each time we import energy. That is a key question other parties need to remember.

The Labour (29%) myth is built on another Green myth, i.e. that Greens and Labour share common progressive values. Probably because it’s in French, Labour, hasn’t yet read the memo that the old comfortably retired Green movement is the natural enemy of the young working class and unemployed. They fail to see how Greens often only wish to protect the earth because they own so much of it. Tories and Greens do the same thing to the working class but the former are honest, quick and brutal about it. Greens use extra-virgin olive oil to soften you up, but the result is the same: A wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

What about the (23%) Lib Dems? Surprisingly they come off rather well: The big myth here is that all the other parties think LibDems are against shale, whereas they have had a genuine rational conversion to the centre ground, where they combine great enthusiasm for shale with only an occasional lapse into an older, Labouresque view where they would really prefer the issue to go away and that UK shale is decades away anyway.

Fourth on the list, is the (3.1%) share of the UK Independence Party. Horrified at any prospect where the UK may be forced to suffer Dutch education, German technology, Danish crime, French trains or Swedish health care, combined with Italian food and worst of all, Spanish women, UKIP holds dear the myth where only the monstrous EU is preventing plucky little Britain drilling for shale. The reality is the EU Commission, informed and lobbied most effectively by the US State Department bypassing member states, are incredibly enthusiastic about shale gas, mostly on geopolitical and macro-economic grounds. Of course we hear about Green MEPs, but even at DG Environment their influence is waning. DGs of Industry, Energy, Finance and Foreign Affairs get shale gas far more than the member states, and Cameron’s sudden conversion from dithering early this year, was perhaps by chance, or perhaps the result of a Council of Ministers meeting shortly beforehand. As in most things European, any policy mistakes of Brussels bureaucrats are magnified by the anti-risk culture of Whitehall meeting UK lawyers.

Although their official colours are red, white and blue, the BNP (1.9%) is probably closer to black to match the shirts in the back of the closet and their yearning for the good old days of coal. Their main myth, noting they and the Green Party are the only ones who publicly oppose shale, seems to stem from a view that it’s a big business scam run by elites of cosmopolitan bankers. Hmm, sounds like 1923 all over again. 

Having alienated everyone else, I’ll continue and address the last great myth, the Green delusion of self-importance. The Green Party only got 0.9% of the popular vote in the 2010 election, but they convince themselves, and sadly, every other party, that they alone are the receptacle of a great popular yearning for the magical solution of a complete carbon free world. The Greens possess the important strategic narrative/advantage of holding a moral high ground and thus hold an influence that is the exact opposite of their capability to win elections. But who needs elections when their (almost) 1% view has such a strong grip on the media narrative?

I look forward to having a rational discussion, or at least trying to. This isn’t a battle. This is a debate. Making a perhaps naive assumption where we all start from scientific facts, the only way is up, not down into the political sewer where nothing will be solved. But we should also try to have that rarity of rarities, a debate based, from all sides, on empirical political facts as well as emotional ones.

By the way, before anyone thinks I’m entirely nuts, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of politicians from across the political spectrum in the UK, Europe and North America. Again counter to conventional wisdom, I've found them all nice, intelligent and charming people, with the possible exception of Nick Griffin who is slightly manic, on a good day anyway. But if I can find common ground with everyone from Lord Lawson through José Bové, so can, and should, everyone else.

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