Lord Howell's comments about fracking in the North East have caused outrage this week
Ours always was a beautiful country. But the Kingdom of Northumbria was ever prepared to temporarily deface and destroy its wondrous coastline, forested hills and majestic rivers in the national interest.
That was how the coal owners and shipbuilders made their unimaginably vast profits, fortunes with which they built grand estates and fine mansions in sight of Cheviot but a million miles from the blackened, cobbled villages that housed their ill-paid colliers and shipwrights.
Profiteers all, the industrialists banked their money and invested in peerages when the pits were nationalised and the shipyard investors sailed off in search of cheaper ports.
By the time Margaret Thatcher took on the unions, they were the grandees who supported the Gaffers’ Party when it called ‘Time!’ on the British coal industry.
Defiled and dirty, the North East was left with high unemployment, low incomes, rusting riverbanks and a Pennine chain of slagheaps.
But, as it always has, the North East has battled back.
Slag heaps have been greened with turf and sculpted in the manner of the stunning Northumberlandia (‘Slag Alice’ to us local philistines) on the Ridleys’ Blagdon estate, tourism is the growth industry, hospitality a major employer, and the region is more beautiful than it has been for centuries, as a swelling army of fell walkers will testify.
Where, then, does the noble Lord Howell of Derision – another ex-Tory minister with Eton, Cambridge and a home in Guildford on his CV – derive the notion that fracking, or drilling deep underground and releasing water and chemicals at high pressure to smash rocks and release natural gas, is the sort of process to be carried out in the “desolate North East” rather than other “more scenic beautiful natural areas”?
Fracking can cause earthquakes. Water companies warn that it could contaminate our drinking water.
Unsurprisingly, Downing Street has disowned him; after all, isn’t the House of Lords supposed to be the chamber of review that stops MPs going off their trolley?
Outrage quickly followed. Friends of the Earth called the comments “jawdropping” and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called the North East “very beautiful, rugged, welcoming, inspiring and historic”.
Good for the Archbish! There’s a man who knows that north of the Tees we’re not all pigeon crees and whippets and that the rolling hills and valleys offer valuable agricultural land that Guildford has long since put down to concrete.
As a tribute to the Man of God’s defence of the flock, I offer the following Thought for the Day. . .
Resting on the seventh day, after his wondrous act of creation, God explained proudly to the Archangel Michael how his greatest work had created planet Earth, a world in perfect balance.
“For example,” he explained to the puzzled Archangel, “there is North America, a place of great opportunity and wealth, while South America is going to be poor.
“The Middle East will be a hot, arid spot while Russia will be cold and covered in ice.”
Michael, impressed by God's work, then pointed to another area. ”What's that?”
“Ah,” said God. ”That's the North of England, the most glorious place on Earth: beautiful people, seven Premiership football teams, impressive cities and the home of the world's finest artists, musicians, writers, thinkers, explorers and politicians.
“People from the North of England are going to be modest, intelligent and humorous and they're going to be found travelling the world.
“They’ll be extremely sociable, hard-working and high-achieving, and they will be known throughout the world as speakers of truth.”
Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then proclaimed: “What about balance God, you said there would be balance?”
God replied very wisely: “Wait till you see the bunch of tossers I'm putting down South to govern the country!”