Jobs not Snobs
by Bill Hartley
They still dig coal in the North East, just. The company responsible is Banks Mining which operates open caste sites. Banks protests in vain that whilst the country needs coal, then better it should come, in part at least, from a domestic source. An outside observer might be forgiven for thinking that Banks is laying waste to the countryside, rather than complying with strict environmental controls and planning consent. It’s a familiar sight on the BBC TV North East regional news, when a Banks story appears. Rather than the usual Eco-warrior the person speaking for the objectors is often a middle aged man in a wax jacket, the type who has a colour coordinated solid fuel Aga in his kitchen. What he definitely doesn’t have is a local accent. Now that those dreadful deep mines have vanished from the landscape, the North East has become a desirable place to live for incomers with money. One suspects that they make common cause with environmentalists to keep the view looking nice.
Certainly there’s plenty of evidence that environmentalism has a pronounced class element and not just in the North East. Down in London some definitely non-proletarian activists have been doing a bit of amateur mining. The February 11th edition of the London Evening Standard reported on the tunnelling activities of a group opposed to the HS2 project. Two activists named “Blue” and “Lazer”, who sound like individuals you might have met in Haight Ashbury circa 1968, had dug themselves in. Their father is a Scottish laird who owns an island in the Hebrides. One tunnel collapse could have prompted a sizeable inheritance problem. Also ensconced underground were Dr Larch Laxey and his son Sebastian. Not names you’d encounter in an inner city comprehensive.
In a rare example of clear thinking, an environmental group staged a protest last year outside Ipswich town hall in support of the proposed expansion of the Sizewell nuclear power station. ‘Nuclear for Net Zero’ must be a rarity among environmentalists, a group which has looked at the science and realises that windmills alone won’t meet our energy needs. Otherwise it was business as usual. Extinction Rebellion also staged a demonstration last year, on the beach at Sizewell, claiming that the project will create a future ‘devoid of wildlife’. Perhaps this prompted an exasperated local to paint the slogan ‘Jobs not Snobs’ on the Sizewell gates.
The far North West of England, the bit beyond the Lake District where nobody goes, has been doing some of the nation’s heavy lifting for many years. There’s Sellafield where all the nuclear waste goes for reprocessing and just down the road is Barrow-in-Furness, where they build nuclear submarines. Now a fearful new threat has appeared on the horizon. Some time ago Copeland Council gave near unanimous approval for the development of a new coal mine. Forget that the mine is to be developed with a commitment to zero carbon emissions, the community benefits it will bring, a its limited life span and the coal used in steel manufacture. The extraordinary level of ignorance about coal and its uses among politicians and activists is matched only by their indifference towards working class communities. For example, Ed Milliband, Labour’s Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, is opposed to the project. If anyone is in need of further reasons why Labour lost much of the North at the last general election, then listening to Mr Milliband on the subject of energy provides the answer. Tim Farron, the former Lib-Dem leader and MP for the South Lakes (the nice bit of Cumbria) sings from the same hymn sheet. With Woodhouse Colliery in the same county as his constituency you’d think he might do a bit more research. Unfortunately the regional BBC news allows him a platform without challenging his views.
Whilst in Durham we get the man in a wax jacket, over in Cumbria it is a woman in search of an attic, speaking on behalf of whatever Green group the BBC has on speed dial. We never get to hear from industry experts or politicians who support the project, such as the Conservative MPs who now represent former mining constituencies. It matters not at all to people such as Milliband and Farron that the colliery can provide 500 jobs in Whitehaven, one of Britain’s poorest towns. If pressed their default position is always the jam tomorrow approach about how we ‘should be’ investing in Green projects. To hear some of these people talk Woodhouse Colliery is set to feature on the world stage at the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Doubtless the Chinese delegates will be appalled that just down the road a new colliery is being developed. Incidentally, according to the International Energy Agency, the Chinese coal industry employs a staggering three million people. To those obsessed with the green orthodoxy, jobs for working people in a deprived area count for nothing if they are the ‘wrong’ jobs. Presumably their solution is to park them on benefits until the ‘right’ ones come along. Too many environmentalists have no idea of how life is lived outside their own rarified sphere. A Toyota Prius isn’t an option for someone on their way to work at the Amazon warehouse in County Durham.
Among the objectors pressing ministers is Lord Deben. There’s always a lord you’ve never heard of in such situations. He used to be known as John Gummer MP. His objection stems from the idea that British ore based steel making with zero emissions will be achieved by a combination of ‘hydrogen direct reduction and electric arc furnace technology which if successfully developed would produce fossil free steel by 2026’. In other words the technology doesn’t yet exist!
This prejudice against coal masks what the product can do in the non energy spheres. Dr Ian Reid of the IAE has recently described how graphene from coal has massive potential to transform material science. For example: electric vehicles, aerospace and computing. He reports that there has also been progress in extracting rare earth elements from coal, elements critical to technologies needed for energy transformation.
The prevalence of green orthodoxy sees coal demonised and its multiple uses ignored. In the media there is little attempt at balance, meaning the argument is largely one sided. Worse still it seems that many politicians have signed up to this orthodoxy and are willing to deny job opportunities to the sort of people who are unlikely to own an Aga.
William Hartley is a former Deputy Governor in HM Prison Service