Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fracking in Bleadon is not acceptable


John Penrose MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear John

South Western Energy Limited (SWE) has recently sent letters to at least two landowners in Bleadon. They want to do “walk over” surveys to get an idea of whether the rocks are suitable for drilling for oil.

At least one of the landowners has refused on environmental grounds, despite the offer of substantial inducements. 

It looks as if SWE is going for “tight oil”, which is a form of fracking that extracts oil rather than gas. Their operation would inevitably result in contamination of the extensive network of underground watercourses in the fissured limestone of the Mendips.

SWE was refused permission in Keynsham at the eastern end of the Mendips because they would contaminate the Roman Baths in the city of Bath.

Clearly this is a matter of great importance not just for the people of Bleadon, but for everyone who loves the Mendips, for the cavers, for Cheddar and Wookey, and for Weston, which draws its water supply from the Banwell Springs.

The last time we corresponded about fracking, you said that your view would be affected by the feeling about it among your constituents. Last year, frack Free North Somerset conducted a survey in neighbouring Hutton, and the result was that 87% signed up to say they did not consent to fracking in their parish. A mere 4% were supportive of fracking. We hope you agree that this is convincing evidence of a majority, far more convincing than, for instance, a 52/48 balance.

Whatever your views on man-made climate change, or the impact of heavy goods vehicles going to and from the fracking site, or of lights, flares, air pollution and health effects in the vicinity of fracking, or of falling property prices and the impact on tourism, we hope that you will agree that it is the duty of our generation to protect the network of waterways under the Mendips.

You may say that no planning application has been made. To this we say – too early is better than too late. It is indeed kinder to SWE that they do not waste money on a survey or on applications that are doomed from the outset because drilling into the Mendips is totally unacceptable.

We are looking forward to a clear statement from you that fracking on or near the Mendips is not acceptable.

Kind regards


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Interruption Rate study request

I have just sent this email to a Professor of media and communications. Something I have been meaning to do for ages.

Dear Professor X

Allegations of bias in the BBC and broadcast media generally are common, and probably come pretty much equally from both sides of the left/right divide.

If the BBC is in fact biased, this is a matter of public interest, since the BBC charter requires its coverage to be balanced.

Therefore we need to identify a robust yet simple parameter of the performance of broadcasters.

I suggest that the concept of "Interruption Rate" (IR) foots this bill. It is quite simply the rate at which a broadcast interviewer interrupts his or her interviewee.  Interruptions may be graded along the lines of simply vocalisations and grunts, to truncation of sentences where the last couple of words of the interviewee's though are overridden, to full-on interruptions where the thought is cut across with a new or restated question. I carried out one such appraisal of Andrew Neil in 2015

The nul hypothesis here is that the IR for each broadcaster will be the same irrespective of the gender, colour, politics or other characteristics of the interviewee.

If there is a tendency for broadcasters to have significantly different IRs for different types of interviewee, this should be made public, so that at very least broadcasters could improve their balance.

Of course, it may be that this kind of studies have already been done, in which case I apologise for my ignorance, and would greatly appreciate a reference to a good review of the field.

If on the other hand, this work has not been done, I would appreciate your thoughts on the proposal, or if you are too busy at the moment, a pointer to someone who might be interested and have the time. Maybe a PhD who is looking for a research project.

Many thanks for your time, and for the excellent work you did on the newspaper articles published during xxx.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lawson

(MB, BS, MRCPsych)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Today's Letter to MP about Brexit

Today's letter to my MP about Brexit


John Penrose MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Many thanks for your very full and thoughtful letter of 7th January.

The Brexit decision is extremely difficult, but I hope we can agree on one point: a “No Deal” Brexit is clearly against the national interest. I hope you can commit unambiguously to speak against a No Deal at every opportunity. Also, the No Deal option should not appear on any “second” (actually, third) referendum.

You mention the “Neverendum” argument that is often rolled out in the media. This argument is hypothetical. If the result was indeed a narrow margin in the order of 52:48 for Remain, then, yes, uncertainty and division would continue, but after two years of incessant media information about the impact of leaving, with or without a deal, the present polls indicate that the result will be a more substantial decision in favour of remaining. As an aside, a better proposition would be Remain and Reform, because the EU does clearly need to undergo substantial changes.

In the absence of No Deal, the referendum can be binary, between the negotiated deal and remain and reform, so the problem you mention of the uncertainty implicit in a three-way decision disappears.

I note the practical difficulties connected with organising a referendum in good time, but we can be confident that a way can be found, especially if constitutionally things get increasingly chaotic in the coming days and weeks. Time is indeed short, but it is probable that Article 50 is going to be delayed whatever happens, so time is not an issue. The referendum campaign does not have to be as long as it was in 2016. We have been listening ad nauseam to arguments for and against Brexit for three years now. The last thing we need is more debate. One A4 sheet of concise summarisation of the points for and against is all we need, and say, a two week notice of when the election will be held.

I do not agree that the opinion polls on the People’s Vote intentions are flaky. If you look here you will see a remarkably consistent increase in the Remain majority since the 2016 referendum; as of 11 January 2019, it stands at Remain 53.6%, Leave 46.4%. We all know that polls can get it wrong, but this is a poll of polls, covering many thousands of responses.

If the People’s Vote did confirm that voters did wish to leave, even by the same tiny margin as in 2016, then we would all have to accept the decision and resign ourselves to our fate. On the other hand, we can be confident that the vote will show that a better informed electorate will vote to remain (and reform) by a margin substantially greater than 52/48.

You mention the oft-deployed media arguments about people resenting their decision being nobbled by metropolitan elites who think people have made the wrong decision and so forth. I do thank you for refraining from using the disgraceful argument that Mr Farage might be out on the streets with his rifle if he does not get his way (despite his having said that a 52/48 result would be “unfinished business”). This kind of pandering to the threat of violence is not worthy of our democracy. People speak often of the 17m who voted Leave, but never mention the 16m who voted remain. We are not violent, but if the result of Brexit is more austerity, you may see a great deal of non-violent direct action from frustrated young Remainers.

The fact is that, as Mrs May’s QC put it, the 2016 referendum was“blemished” by:

1. Lies on a Bus
2. A sustained imbalance of media coverage against the EU and commentary in favour of Leave (I will spare you the details of this, unless you request them)
3. Gross overspending by the Vote Leave campaign that was in breach of electoral law
4. Questionable £8.4m donation to Leave.EU by Arron Banks possibly originating in Russia
5. Theresa May blocking request by MI6 to investigate Arron Banks before referendum
6. Breach by Vote Leave and BeLeave of the 3-day suspension of campaigning after the politically motivated murder of your fellow MP, Jo Cox
7. A billion targeted and illegally financed Facebook Leave advertisements in the last few days of the campaign. (Facebook adverts were seen by 20 million people),
8. Millions of British expats were denied the vote.

The 2016 referendum was deeply flawed. This decision is going to affect the economic well-being, international standing and influence of our nation for many decades – maybe forever. Cabinet makers and tailors have an excellent maxim that is relevant to this situation. They say: “Measure twice, cut once”. It is very clear indeed that we should in this case measure twice before cutting.

We need a People’s Vote on the final deal.

Thank you.

Kind regards

Richard Lawson

Saturday, January 12, 2019


Two diametrically opposed political movements signal that politics is in an extremely delicate state  in 2019. 

In France we have had the sometimes violent Gilets Jaunes demonstrations, partly caused by rising fuel prices, and in the UK* we are seeing the beginning of the  Extinction Rebellion  which calls on Government to take action which entails, among other things, a rise in fuel prices.

How do we square this circle? How do we reduce our CO2 emissions without making life harder for those who are struggling to make ends meet as things stand?

The science of global warming is clear, but the politics of dealing with global warming is anything but clear. 

Electoral politics as currently practiced, involves using the media to persuade the maximum number of your natural supporters that they are going to be better off financially over then next four years if they vote for your party.

Electoral politics does not work for the Green Party. 
First, we are substantially excluded from the national media. The amount of column inches and airtime we are granted falls far short of the 2-3% of the vote that we receive during general elections. 
Second, we are not offering voters more money over the next four years. We are just offering them, together with their children and grandchildren, a safer, more sustainable quality of life. 

I have found in past electoral campaigns that most voters are not interested at all in the quality of life that their grandchildren might or might not experience.

So how exactly are we going to persuade people to take an interest in a sustainable future?

The only way I can see is by pump priming. To prime a pump, you have to give it a bit of water first, so that it will actually be able to do its pumping water thing. In political terms, if you want to get people out of their cars and into more efficient forms of (public)  transport, we have to make public transport cheaper than car travel first of all. When they have seen the point, and jumped aboard the cheaper, cleaner, more frequent and more flexible public transport, only then can we start applying the carbon tax. 

Likewise, when peoples' homes are thoroughly insulated through the efforts of the Green New Deal, then we can apply the Carbon Tax to home heating.

When people have experienced the pleasures of a society that is in full employment, through the Green Wage Subsidy, then they will understand the necessity and rightness of the cyclical economy.

* and six other countries