Lord Howell offends — but does he have a point?

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Lord Howell’s comments will create a debate over the North-South divide. Illustration: Stephen Collins.

Oh Lord Howell, you’ve done it again. Offending the North of England oncewasn’t enough, so he’s had a second go — warning today that the Conservative party will lose votes in their heartlands if fracking goes ahead. In an online article for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, George Osborne’s father-in-law lambasts the government’s fracking plans:

‘Trying to start in southern England, and in the home counties, or in rural and countryside areas anywhere, north or south, is a guarantee of longer delays, higher costs and increased hostility from both green left and countryside right. ‘Every time ministers open their mouths to claim that fracking must start everywhere around Britain, and not just in carefully selected and remote (derelict) areas, they lose thousands of Tory votes. ‘In the northeast, the northwest and all the places where the Industrial Revolution has left the worst historical scars they do have just such areas, they have the gas and they have the local wish to see fracking investment’

And just to remind those in the North that properties in the South East are far more valuable, Howell also says it is pointless bribing rural communities to accept fracking:

‘Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale. Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them.’

For the Tories, comments such as these are extremely unhelpful and reopen the debate about the North-South divide and whether they care about the region at all. Although Howell’s remarks are politically ill-advised, he does have a point.
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