Sir Jim Ratcliffe – head of INEOS, one the world’s largest chemicals producers – and the UK’s richest man

On 16th January 2019 news was leaked through the German paper Handelsblatt of The Alliance to End Plastic Waste.[1] A new industrial coalition that will invest $1billion over the next five years in a campaign to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the world. Here was a powerful body of major corporations determining to address the scourge that was besetting the Earth and causing so much distress to so many, especially in the Western Metropolitan society – the plague of plastic.

In parallel with the seemingly endless tide of plastic waste has come a rising tide of concern. In December 2017 the final episode of Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ series thrust the issue into the mainstream and now rarely a day passes without a further report on the impact of plastic refuse on wildlife, on the scale of the plastic gyres in the Pacific, or on the mounds of waste on the world’s beaches. And the media also reports the fight back – towns declaring themselves plastic free, campaigns to make London ‘a city that breaks free of plastic’, The Daily Mail’s ‘Break the Plastic Habit!’[2] initiative and the valiant people (so often women) who have dedicated their lives to gathering plastic from the beaches and rivers.

We salute Fran Crowe[3], who has been part of the Platform extended family for a long time and who, since 2006, has made the focus of her powerful work the gathering of plastics on the beaches, particularly in Suffolk. She fashions beautiful, shocking installations from her finds. In 2007 she set herself the challenge of ‘saving’ one square mile of sea, by collecting 46,000 pieces of plastics whilst walking along the shore near where she lives. Through her art she has made tangible the often invisible pollution of the oceans.

Fran Crowe – ‘Cast Away’ – installation of found plastic at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe, Suffolk, 2008

There are now stirrings in the legislatures. The British Parliament announced in September 2018[4] that it would replace single-use plastic in the catering provided to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In December 2018 the European Parliament and European Commission reached provisional political agreement[5] on new measures to tackle marine litter at source, targeting ten plastic products. It seems that with the announcement of The Alliance to End Plastic Waste the world of corporate capital is finally waking up.

But the Plastic Waste initiative is not without its critics[6]. The Recycling Netwerk[7], based in Utrecht, Netherlands released a statement that highlighted that the problem of plastics is not so much one of waste, but one of production.[1][8] That the solution to the world drowning in plastic refuse is not only through spending more time litter picking – though this is vital – but by stopping the manufacture of plastics in the first place.[2][9] The Netwerk highlighted the fact that several of the signatories to the Waste Alliance are also some of the world’s largest producers of plastics – including Shell, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BASF and LyondellBasell.

Shell’s new chemical plant at Potter Township, near Pittsburgh currently under construction – 2019

Shell, for example, is currently ramping up its production of the chemicals that underpin plastics by building a new plant at Potter Township on the Ohio River near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.[10] It intends to use fracked gas as the factory’s feedstock. This works aims to generate each year 1.6 million tonnes of polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic.

Rob Buurman of Netwerk Recycling declared:

“It is interesting to see [the chemicals industry] finally acknowledge that there is a problem with their plastics. But unfortunately, this initiative does not tackle the problem at its source: the gigantic production of 400m tonnes of plastic each year, with 60m metric tonnes produced in Europe alone.”

Buurman said street, river and beach clean-ups would not work as long as there was a steady stream of new plastics being produced and collected in a half-hearted way. “These kind of actions want to cure the image of plastic. But plastics don’t have an image problem – the exaggerated use of it in products with a short lifespan is a problem in itself,”

The spokesperson for Plastic Waste pushed back against this criticism: “Reducing the amount of plastic required to create products while preserving the benefits people rely on and making plastics easier to recycle is definitely part of the solution. … Some of the members (of the Alliance) do produce plastic, and some have announced expansions to meet the demands of a growing population…”

The PR executive continued:

“Plastic provides many critical health, safety and sustainability benefits that help improve and maintain living standards, hygiene and nutrition around the world and replacing it could, in the end, do more harm than good… We must maintain the critical benefits that plastics bring to people and communities. It is not either/or. With a thoughtful, comprehensive and strategic approach, we can do both.”

This response of the corporates to concern over plastics is archetypal. Blame not the production, for what is produced is of vital import to the world (especially those in the ‘under developed world’), but call for everyone to come together in addressing the problem of the waste.

The exact same rhetoric is applied to oil & gas extraction – it is not a problem of production but of waste. So we need to deal with CO2 emissions: by increasing efficiency, by planting trees, by carbon capture & storage technology, and so on. Once again ‘Let us all work together to address the problem of waste’, do not cause division by harping on about production.

Rachel Carson whose ‘Silent Spring’ (1963) revealed the ecological impact of the pesticides manufactured by Shell

They tried the same strategy in the 1960s and ‘70s around pesticides, responding to the widespread concern that grew on the back of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’.[11]

This narrative always obscures the fundamental fact that the point of chemical production is not to meet the social need for carrier bags or hip replacements, laptops or syringes (or the plastic glasses through which I peer at the world), but to generate return on private capital, to increase private wealth.

There is one plastics manufacturer who is refreshingly open and blunt on these matters, and seems to be reluctant to participate in this industry wide image initiative by the Plastic Waste Alliance, he is the head of INEOS, Sir Jim Ratcliffe. He is a symbol of the new phase in the war over fossil fuels. As the likes of Shell and BP seem to waver a little, INEOS is stepping to the front of the battle. For INEOS, a name unheard of by so many of us, is the one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemicals and oil products. Their strap line is ‘The Word for Chemicals.’ It has a turn over of $60 billion.

Netwerk Recycling touched on this in their announcement, pointing out that in the same week that news came about the Plastic Waste alliance, INEOS had made a press statement[12] on a € 3 billion investment (equivalent to $3.4 billion) to create one of the largest chemicals plants in European history on the banks of the River Schelde in Antwerp.

There’s an important backstory to INEOS’ move. Ratcliffe was once an employee of BP’s Saltend chemical plant by Hull but was sacked. However in 1992, having become a venture capitalist and set up on his own as Inspec, he bought BP’s Hythe plastics factory near Southampton and its sister factory in Carshalton on the River Wandle in South West London. In 1995, after changing the company’s name to INEOS, he made his boldest move by purchasing BP’s plant in Antwerp.

BP’s former works at Baglan Bay, Port Talbot, South Wales – once the largest chemical plant in Europe, now demolished

BP was keen to be rid of this vast works in Belgium that it had had a stake in since the 1950s, for the company was rapidly pulling out of all chemicals investments in Europe. In 1994 it had put the nail in the coffin of its Baglan Petrochemicals Plant in South Wales – which had a ship dedicated to exporting raw product from Baglan to Antwerp. Soon after closing Baglan, BP decided to invest heavily in a chemicals plant in Yangtze, China, taking a 51% stake in the Yangtze River Acetyls Co. Ltd. The corporation was shifting capital from Western Europe to the Far East and leaving in its wake areas such as South Wales blighted by deindustrialisation. It looked as though the same fate would befall Antwerp.

INEOS’s chemical plant at Zwijndrecht, on the banks of the River Scheldt at Antwerp

However Ratcliffe bought the plant and stripped it to the bone, managing thereby to turn it around as a profitable venture and maintain production. It remained a hub in the chemicals world of North Western Europe. In 2010 INEOS announced that they would build a new 1 million tonne per year deep-sea Ethylene Terminal at Zwijndrecht, with a link direct to INEOS’s ethylene consuming factory in Antwerp and another plant in the Rotterdam area, as well as into Europe via the Aethylen-Rohrleitungs-Gesellschaft (ARG) pipeline to Koln, feeding plants such as those run by BASF at Dormagen. INEOS was by then the largest producer of ethylene in Europe. Ratcliffe, a buccaneering capitalist now had his hands on the chemical heart of the EU.

The same pattern evolved in the UK Sector of the North Sea offshore fields. INEOS began in 2005 by purchasing Grangemouth Refinery which is supplied largely by UK North Sea oil and is a vital organ in the UK Sector machine. By 2015 it was purchasing gas fields, such as Breagh and Clipper South, 40 miles east off Norfolk. In 2017 it brought the Forties Pipeline System through which passes 40% of the UK’s oil and the greater part of all of its offshore oil production. Late last year INEOS bid for all of Chevron’s stakes in the UK North Sea aiming to make Ratcliffe one of the largest players in that massive industrial realm. As with the control of the Antwerp plant, the Zwijndrecht dock and the ARG pipeline, INEOS now had its hands on the oil heart of the UK.

Jim Ratcliffe, knighted in June 2018, for services to business – on the recommendation of Theresa May’s government

Who is this Jim Ratcliffe? Sixty-six years old, a defiantly self-made man from near Manchester, Ratcliffe was declared the UK’s ‘Richest Man’ in the Sunday Times ‘Rich List 2018’ and was knighted in the same year. He owns an extensive home near Hythe in Hampshire (close to the first plant he brought – now closed) and two luxury yachts. His base is in Monaco and INEOS is registered in Switzerland. He is an archetypal symbol of the new era of Britain’s oil & gas realm, an era when it is no longer dominated solely by UK-based private capital in the form of corporations such as BP and Shell, but by foreign-based private capital in the form of INEOS and Chrysaor. These latter companies are almost entirely hidden from public view. It is not surprising that most of us have not heard of the name INEOS.

Ratcliffe and INEOS, though foreign based and paying little or no tax in the UK, continue to play a key role in shaping the politics of this country – just as BP and Shell have done since the 1910s. INEOS has been in the media for it’s determined pursuit of fracking in the UK and has been the object of protests in Scotland, Yorkshire, Cheshire and elsewhere. This month Greenpeace UK revealed that INEOS had directly threatened to close its Seal Sands chemicals plant, on Teesside, if had to abide by EU environmental legislation. The plant has broken legal pollution limits 176 times in the last four years and INEOS wrote to Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business & Energy, to say that the company would close – with the loss of 2,000 jobs – rather than invest to comply with legislation unless Clark found a way to help it “defer compliance with regulations.” This, and INEOS’s push to frack in Britain, are perfect examples of the type of lobbying that the UK government has long been subjected to by the oil & gas industry. But the UK’s ability to resist such pressure, and thus to defend the quality of our air and the ecosystems of our rivers, will be far weaker if Britain steps outside the EU.

Vivienne Westwood among those resisting INEOS’s drive to frack for gas in the UK, 2018

Not surprisingly Ratcliffe has been a rare example of an outspoken supporter of Brexit in the ‘business community’. So we tie back plastics to Brexit. Here is a man who wants to drive the UK out of the European Union, apparently because he believes in Britain having a bright ‘free market future’ outside the constraints on Bruxelles bureaucracy. A man whose company is central to the economy of the UK and a key player in the industrial systems of a number of key EU states, including Belgium and Germany, and yet who himself chooses to live outside the EU in the tax havens on its periphery. And a man who has been virulently outspoken against EU Environmental legislation, whilst being in receipt of millions of Euros in EU subsidies.

And a man who is doubtless lobbying against the attempt by the European Commission to limit plastic waste. For as we have seen, although a central producer of plastics, INEOS is not a participant in the Plastic Waste Alliance.

Thankfully the shameless manoeuvring of Ratcliffe – being so central to the UK’s energy system and demanding subsidies whilst not paying tax – has not gone unnoticed. The shift to be domiciled in Monaco is reported t[13]o be saving £4 billion that would have gone to the UK Exchequer. On February 17th 2019 Labour’s John McDonnell told The Financial Times: “Any government would look askance at Mr Ratcliffe’s advice and representations (for state subsidies) from here on given the attitude he is displaying to our country in his tax affairs. Patriots pay their taxes.” And the Daily Mirror reported that McDonnell said: “This is a super-rich person. We’re not talking about someone who’s on his uppers… For every penny that’s avoided in this way in taxation, what does that mean? It means the NHS doesn’t treat patients, it means our children don’t get the full investment in their education and it means less safety on our streets. I appeal to people like this – this is a great country to live in, just make your contribution like the rest of us.”

INEOS and Ratcliffe, and others like him are the new lords of the oil & gas world and the struggle to protect the climate, address other environmental plagues such as plastic waste, and ensure we build a more socially just and equal society, will have to be fought on this battleground. Just as INEOS strives to generate the highest profit whether operating within or without the EU, the UK movement for social & ecological justice will need to engage in this battle whether we remain in the EU or leave. In both scenarios we urgently need to ‘Reform’ the economy.

Resistance takes many forms – Fran Crowe collecting ocean plastics on the beaches of Suffolk



[1][14] The UK government’s proposed action in 2018 also focuses largely on waste not production –[15].

[2][16] Or at least to colour code different types of plastic to ease recycling and to ban composite products, for example where a cap and a bottle are made of different materials.


With thanks to Fran Crowe & Terry Macalister.

The themes in this blog are drawn from research for the forthcoming book – ‘Crude Britannia – How  Big Oil shaped a nation’s past and future’, by Terry Macalister and James Marriott. Due for publication in 2020


  1. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste.:
  2. The Daily Mail’s ‘Break the Plastic Habit!’:
  3. Fran Crowe:
  4. announced in September 2018:
  5. reached provisional political agreement:
  6. Plastic Waste initiative is not without its critics:
  7. The Recycling Netwerk:
  8. [1]: #_ftn1
  9. [2]: #_ftn2
  10. Potter Township on the Ohio River near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.:
  11. Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’.:
  12. INEOS had made a press statement:
  13. The shift to be domiciled in Monaco is reported t:
  14. [1]: #_ftnref1
  16. [2]: #_ftnref2

This blog is by Freya Brindley Rowell who was on placement with Platform in March. She is about to go to university.


London’s Living Room, in City Hall. Photo: Freya Brindley Rowell

Nervous, anxious and excited were all things I was feeling as I headed to London to volunteer at Platform. As a person that grew up in the countryside, just navigating my way through the underground was cause for me to break into sweat (the blasting heat probably had something to do with it too.)

One thing that really stuck with me the whole time I was at Platform was the sense of community and the importance of staff wellbeing. Alongside this there were clear boundaries of what was appropriate to say or do in certain circumstances. Because Platform runs by consensus and there is no chain of command, anyone can speak up on this. The current media portrayal of “office culture” is very hierarchical and has a focus on individuals, a bit like a school playground, so this non-hierarchical approach has a great dynamic of everyone being an equal, and anything anyone had to say was treated with value.

Prior to my work experience I had expressed an interest in Platform’s campaign on divestment from fossil fuels. During my time on placement, my task was to research my own council, Gwynedd County Council in Wales. I was to look into their pension fund and see how it was being divested. In addition to this they helped me with the tools to contact my councillor and MP to raise the issues of divestment and how important it is in gaining climate justice. I am yet to hear back from either my councillor or my MP, however Gwynedd Council have since acknowledged climate change and the necessary measures that need to be taken if we are to stay within the 1.5 degree limit. Plus I am now part of the Divest Parliament Welsh Regional Team – a group of volunteers within Wales putting pressure on Welsh Councillors and MP’s.


Sakina Sheikh, Platform’s Divest campaigner.    Photo: Freya Brindley Rowell

On the last day of my work experience. I was given the opportunity of attending London’s City Hall, for an event organised by Platform and the Greater London Authority called ‘London Divests – Leading the Global ClimateTransition’[3]. This high profile event was targeted mainly at London councillors. A panel including Platform’s Divest lead campaigner Sakina Sheikh made the arguments for local authority pension divestment. They argued this on climate and racial justice grounds as well as the financial vulnerability of investments in fossil fuel companies. There were break-out discussion groups, and the panel also answered the audience’s questions.

‘London Divests’ was the highlight of my week. It was an amazing experience to see councillors talking productively about what needs to be done to achieve climate justice. In my view climate change has always been something that has been quietly ignored, that recycling is enough to please the nation’s conscience. It was explained at the event that not only was divestment important for moral and climate reasons, it has financial reasoning in that shares in fossil fuel companies are vulnerable. To stay within the 1.5 degree limit, 80% of the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. The top 200 hydrocarbon companies in the world already have more than 5 times the amount that can be burnt to stay within that limit. The investments into fossil fuel companies could expect a considerable loss when companies can’t access their reserves due to governmental limitations.

This two-pronged argument was explained at the talk, and it really inspired me as a young adult as it is my future and the future of many other young adults across the globe that will be affected greatly by climate change.

I am eternally grateful to the Platform team for welcoming me into their family and showing me their climate activist ways.

Platform says… We loved having you, Freya! 

  1. [Image]:
  2. [Image]:
  3. London Divests – Leading the Global ClimateTransition’: http://Leading%2520the%2520Global%2520Climate%2520Transition%2520by%2520Greater%2520London%2520Authority%2520&%2520Platform

Action at British Museum to oppose BP’s sponsorship – on the steps of the portico (Credit Safa Kadhim)

I had read in advance the briefing that Culture Unstained[1] had put out to accompany the planned action. The protest at the British Museum was to be against BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition ‘I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria’,[2] a display of treasures from the land of Iraq. I read lines in the statement which described:

‘the large-scale contamination in the Province of Basra’s water supplies, with about 100,000 residents[3] … estimated to have been taken ill after drinking polluted water in the summer of 2018… Chemical and bacterial contamination of Basra’s water has been found to be extremely high[4] and salinity is more than 20 times[5] the recommended level. This was one of the triggers for the mass protests (in August 2018) – dubbed by some as the “water uprising”.’

How ignorant I felt. I had no knowledge of the appalling conditions in the southern Iraqi city that, of all places, should be benefiting from the oil that Iraq pumps each day – 4.6 million barrels, the world’s fourth largest producer. I had not noticed that there were weekly protests against the foreign oil corporations such as BP. I read the words of photo journalist Khaled Tawfiq Hadi:

“In Basra, all the wars weren’t enough for us to die in them. Now, even the taps kill us, the very taps that are the sources of the water in our houses”

How ashamed I felt, by the sense that, like so many, I had turned away from Iraq. A country that had been central to the attention of companions at Platform for a decade (particularly Greg Muttit and Ewa Jasiewicz), had dropped out of my view in the last five years. I felt sickened that the UK and its corporations were now, 16 years after the invasion of Iraq, involved in relentless resource extraction alongside merciless immiseration.

Terry Adams – BP senior executive and then UK Foreign Office consultant on Iraqi oil policies and contracts 2004-05

Shame turned to anger. How can it be that many of the architects of the destruction of Iraq now relax in absolute security, immense wealth, and in the comfortable support of friends and peers? For this is the life today, in February 2019, of the men who planned and oversaw the war and the subsequent plunder of Iraq’s wealth: of Tony Blair, of Lord John Browne (head on BP during the Iraq War), of the Rev Sir Philip Watts (former head of Shell 2001-04), of Terry Adams (ex BP and then UK Foreign Office consultant on Iraqi oil policies and contracts 2004-05), of Tony Hayward (Head of BP Exploration and BP CEO 2003-10) and of Bob Dudley (current CEO of BP)? The list goes on. An array of millionaires.

Tony Hayward – Head of BP Exploration and then BP CEO 2003-10

In my anger I imagined what it would be like to accompany these men, not around the galleries of the British Museum to gaze upon the works of the Assyrians, but around the streets of Basra. That we too would see the polluted waterways. That we too would witness the rage in the Friday protests. These ruined cities, these oil pipelines draining the resources of Iraq, are their works. These are the works of BP, of the UK Government, and in the shame of our averted eyes, us British citizens.


With a head full of thoughts, I joined the massive queue outside the British Museum on the morning of Saturday 16th February. Americans, Chinese, Italians … people coming from all around the world to view our imperial loot. The British Museum, an engine of the British economy. An economy living off past theft, the theft of the past, a kind of necro-economy. An economy dependent upon tourists ferried in on a million aeroplanes. The stench of jet fuel.

Such was the queue I came into the Great Court of the museum from the back entrance thirty minutes late. There was not an activist to be seen. But to my relief the air was filled with the sound of the protest. I could hear voices chanting in denouncement, like the roar of a great wave. It set my heart quickening. I could feel the demonstration in my belly before I saw it. As I walked around the curve of the Rotunda, lines and lines of people dressed in black came into view. They faced two speakers, Danny Chivers, of BP or not BP?[6] and Ibtehal Hussain, of Campaign Against Arms Trade[7], whose heads were just visible above the crowd, holding high in the air a portable sound system. Ibethal read from Khaled Tawfiq Hadi:

“Our dreams are repeated frequently because as soon as we enter into a dream we are quickly pulled out of it as no hour passes without the sound of falling tears nearby. I have yet to find someone in Basra who has completed his dream all at once.”

Straining to be heard, Danny and Ibethal were almost lost in the vast space of the Court amidst the constant rumble of shuffling feet and conversation. Unable to hear the speeches, it seemed to me that their voices came from a far distance, from another land, another time.

The lines of protestors, in orderly ranks, were like mourners for the dead. There was a sombre seriousness about the gathering. This was not an act, not a pose of discontent, but rather a demonstration. A demonstration of a view of history held by a great mass of people across this country and far beyond. A demonstration of patient rage.

“We are here because it is inexcusable for a public museum to be promoting a fossil fuel company in the midst of a climate crisis”

“We are here because sixteen years ago the largest mobilisation of people across the world took place to protest the Iraq War”

The yellow vested British Museum staff looked on in bemusement, chatting in pairs, whispering into walkie-talkies. They had a right to be baffled, for something new was taking place before their eyes.

There were many here in their early 20s. They must have been children when at 02.30 am on the 20th March 2003, forty cruise missiles fired from US warships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf began the attack on Baghdad and reopened the Iraqi oil industry to foreign capital after forty years of closure. Alongside them there were many grey haired women and men who had surely joined the million strong London march in February 2003. Here, as then, several generations were in action. The demonstration at the Museum came the day after the Climate Change School Strikes, and in the midst of Extinction Rebellion. There was a feeling of a growing movement, a new wave, combining opposition to war and colonialism with the struggle against the oil corporations and climate change.

As the figures in black chanted:

“No War No Warming”


Action at the British Museum – the tapestry around the Rotunda (Credit Diana More)

The shining white marble floor of the Great Court was suddenly revealed as the lines of black dispersed in different directions. All of those attending the protest were invited to participate. This was a demotic action in a demotic space, this was more ‘community theatre’ than ‘performance art’. The 350 demonstrators stood one after the other surrounding the Rotunda. Against the sound of camera shutters clicking, they sang:

“We are the people rising

When oil burns and armies grow

You stole our past and future

It’s time for you to go, go, go,

It’s time for you to go!”

In their hands they held a 200-meter long ‘living tapestry’ whose white letters on a black background read:


















The long line of figures carried echoes of past resistance. The Women in Black[8] who bore witness to the Yugoslav Civil War, demonstrating in London by the Edith Cavell Monument next to Trafalgar Square (an action that continues to this day). The Greenham Women who ‘Embraced the Base’ in 1982[9]. As at Greenham, this was not a tightly controlled performance and there was space for the unscripted action. A well-dressed woman in her fifties held up a piece of cardboard on which she had hand-written:

‘My history looted by ISIS and auctioned by Christies’


Tara Mariwany and Yasmin Younis address the crowd (credit Diana More)

After perhaps an hour the action of surrounding the Rotunda came to an end. The chain of protestors uncoiled from the circle and recoiled itself in one corner of the Great Court. From the midst of this seated crowd rose three  Iraqis, who voiced their truths in turn[10]. During the war and its aftermath we so rarely heard the words of the people of Iraq, especially in the prolonged struggle over access to the oil. Their voices were drowned out by the cacophony of western politicians and consultants. Here, at the heart of the British Museum, space was being made by the demonstration.

Zeena Yasin spoke: “I am going to share a personal story that is a direct legacy of the invasion of Iraq. During the bombing of Mosul against ISIS, which is a direct consequence of the western invasion of Iraq – the husband of my auntie wanted to aid his neighbours. His wife begged him not to, worrying for his safety. Because of his bravery, strength and chivalry, he went in an attempt to save his relatives. Alas, the house he went to was bombed and he was one of the casualties. Because of the destruction of infrastructure and transport, she could not get him to the hospital in time. It was not safe enough to get a taxi or get on a bus. She pushed him on a pushchair for hours and he succumbed to his injuries on the way. Allah yaharmu (Allah bless his soul)”

As each speaker took the portable microphone a banner was held in front of the crowd which read:

‘Iraq is THE big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there’ – Foreign Office official November 2002

These were the lines from a memo, which through insane determination, Greg Muttitt extracted from Whitehall. They were words typed by an official (name redacted) after a meeting with a BP group led by Richard Paniguian (later Sir Richard). That November, whilst the world felt the invasion of Iraq remained in the balance and three months before the mass demonstration against the war, Paniguian’s team made it clear that BP regarded Iraq as ‘vitally important – more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time.’ Paniguian worked for BP of 37 years, helping the company break into the oilfields of Angola, Azerbaijan, Russia, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. On retiring from BP he became head of the UK’s Department for Trade & Industry defence sales team. Paniguian passed away in 2017. Surely he was a Master of War, a father of the ceaseless violence that has rained down on Iraq in these last decades.

Sir Richard Paniguian with the Prince of Wales receiving his knighthood in 2015

Yasmin Younis spoke: “As a member of the Iraqi diaspora and the child of Iraqi immigrants, being Iraqi has been one of the most influential aspects of my life. But growing up during and living in a post-Iraq War era, the war’s destruction extends beyond the Iraqi border. The most formative years of my life were filled with self-hatred and self-doubt as the world turned against my people and “Iraq” became synonymous with “war” and “violence.” Whenever I tried to learn about my history or my culture outside of intimate familial settings, my searches were limited to violence, war, and casualty.”

With her voice cracking she continued:

“When I saw there would be a special exhibition on my culture and my history, I was ecstatic because for once, my culture’s beauty would be celebrated, but finding out the sponsor was BP was a massive slap in the face. These are the very same sponsors who advocated for the war, which destroyed my homeland and slaughtered my people all in the name of oil. To BP and the British Museum, I say how DARE you use my culture and my history as an attempt to hide your colonialist skeletons. Not my culture, not my country. No war, no warming!”

The Rumaila field, to the west of Basra, is the biggest oil project currently operating in Iraq. It is an Elephant Field, discovered by a BP subsidiary in 1953, the third largest in the world, and the backbone of Iraq’s exports. In 2018 it accounted for 40% of the country’s oil sales, and contributed around 30% of the total budget of Iraq. It is now operated by BP, in partnership with the Chinese state multinational PetroChina. It gives these corporations a hugely powerful stake in the Iraqi economy and thus its political future. Power in Iraq was once in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his circle, now it is in the hands of a number of foreign business executives and government ministers.

BP’s ability to draw profit from Rumaila is a direct consequence of Paniguian’s lobbying the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, via his officials, and a direct consequence of the forty cruise missiles that rained hell down on Baghdad in March 2003. It is also the consequence of BP’s relentless pressuring of the post-War Iraqi regimes – which was so exhaustively documented in Greg Muttitt’s book ‘Fuel on the Fire’ [11]– as they strove to secure rights over those ‘vitally important’ oil fields. Central to their campaign to get hold of Rumaila was Michael Townshend, Regional President BP Iraq 2009-13, currently head of BP Middle East, who had previously overseen the building of the infamous BTC pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Townshend was an architect of the Rumaila project and now the people of southern Iraq have to live with the consequences of his plan.

Michael Townshend, Regional President BP Iraq 2009-13, currently head of BP Middle East

Tara Mariwany spoke:

“We have all heard the argument that the 2003 invasion would bring democracy, stability, and peace to the people of Iraq. Yet, the current situation shows, the invasion and subsequent occupation has only been in the interest of corrupt politicians, foreign governments, and oil companies like BP – all of this at the very expense of Iraqis…

Today, oil-rich areas are one of the most deprived in the country. More than 80% of Iraq’s total GDP comes from the ports around Basra. Yet 50% of Basrawis live below the poverty line…While oil revenues account for 88.8% of total revenues, only 1% of jobs in the oil sector go to Iraqis.”

Filled with fury she continued: “In Basra, daily protests have been staged since summer 2018 due to growing frustrations at the corrupt leadership and foreign companies that are draining the country’s vast resources unhindered, to the detriment of the people. Local government offices were stormed, and entry to key oilfields were blocked off by protestors – and in retaliation, clashes with government forces killed 20 people, injured 492, and another 425 were arrested for participating, in just one single month. Hussam Abdel Ameer, 25 years old, and an unemployed university graduate from Basra said:

“We want jobs, we want to drink clean water, and electricity. We want to be treated like human beings and not animals.”

She refers to the method used by BP to extract oil as fast as possible from Rumaila, by injecting water deep into the rocks beneath the desert so that it maintains ‘well pressure’ and drives oil to the surface. It is a technique built into Townshend’s plan.

“As Iraqis are struggling to find water for their crops or feed their cattle with, the British Museum have partnered up with a company that is not only polluting waters with waste, but in 2016 and 2017 have injected over 720,000 barrels per day of water for their oil production.”

She rises to a crescendo and concludes:

“On this anniversary, it is up to us to remind the British Museum that we will not accept this sponsorship. We refuse to be complicit not only in the destruction of our planet, but the exploitation of a people and their land that have done nothing but demand to live their lives in dignity. As Iraqis continue to rise up, we too must demand the British Museum end their partnership with BP.”


Text by Bob Dudley, CEO of BP in the front of the British Museum’s exhibition catalogue

The words of Zeena, Yasmin and Tara stand in stark contrast to the Sponsor’s Foreword in the catalogue of the exhibition. Signed by Bob Dudley, Group Chief Executive, BP it includes the passage:

‘The important Iraqi Rumaila Field, which we helped to discover in the 1950s, is a great example of this (applying new technologies to historic resources.) We returned to the area in 2009 as the first international oil and gas company to invest in the country after conflict. Development of Rumaila has been extremely important for Iraq: it provides thousands of jobs for local people, and generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue every year for the country.’

An ‘application of new technologies’ sounds like serene common sense. But by this he means corralling the scarce water of a desert land in order to boost oil production, and boost profit. ‘Providing thousands of jobs’ sounds like the act of a great paternalist employer. But 16 years ago 99% of all those employed in the country’s oil industry were Iraqi nationals. Now the highest paid jobs in Iraq’s oil sector go to foreign nationals. It is hard to check Dudley’s claim on employment but we can be sure that the wage differential between foreign workers and Iraqi’s is massive. That sudden inequality in the industry is phenomenal. It feels like a return to the semi-colonial days before Iraq took control of its own resources in the 1960s and 70s. ‘Tens of billions of dollars in revenue’ sounds like BP is the benefactor for the nation. But what of the billions of dollars in profit that now go to BP and once went to the government of Iraq?

Dudley’s words describe how BP ‘returned to area’. It sounds almost as if the company were heading back to a well-remembered pub. In the mind of those that read the catalogue foreword, this page serves to vanish the simple fact that BP could only return to Rumaila on the back of a cataclysm of violence. And the British Museum, a great public institution, a showcase of the nation to the world, enables this vanishing act through this sponsorship deal and the publishing of this foreword.


Ilaf Moslawy performing at the entrance to the British Museum (credit Safa Khadim)

On a signal the protestors once again form a line and, carrying the tapestry, snake out of the Great Court and arrange themselves on the steps on the museum, before the pillars of the portico. They sing and watch the Iraqi poet Ilaf Moslawy[12] perform:

“I am BP.

How dare you question my activity?

I am British Petroleum:

King of Exploitation,

King of Injustice”

The British Museum is a building that hopes to convey continuity and stability. It presents its cornucopia of treasures in a spirit of trying to create exchange between cultures, to assist peace even. And it welcome visitors from across the world who filled the queues I had joined, attempting to be inclusive to all, as an important institution within a democratic culture.

The demonstrators of February 2003 were told that these three things – stability, peace, democracy – would be delivered to the people of Iraq as a replacement to Saddam’s brutal regime. Yet none of them have come. That which was promised by our government and the corporations has not been delivered. What has come are war and instability, poverty and pollution, and the profits of the country’s resources are being drained away from the common wealth of Iraqis to the private wealth of the government officials, company staff and corporate shareholders. Some tiny fragment of these stolen riches is syphoned back to the pension funds of British citizens and the marketing department of the British Museum.

I’m filled with a desire for justice. That those that designed and carried out this catastrophic destruction of a land and its peoples should be held to account. Perhaps we could stand alongside Lord John Browne, Terry Adams, Tony Hayward, Bob Dudley, Michael Townshend and the ghost of Richard Paniguian. We could accompany them as they look at the 350 people gathered together on the steps of the British Museum. Doubtless these white men in their sixties and seventies, like Tony Blair, would have no remorse, but believe that all their actions were taken with the best of intentions. But we would stand beside them in the knowledge that, on this day at least, the consequence of their actions was not forgotten but revealed.

May we take inspiration from the people of Iraq, who have kept up an extraordinary resistance, persevering in the face of unimaginable horror and oppression. May we, in the midst of luxury, maintain the same level of determination.

May there be many more days like these.

Banner held up at the front of the Museum as the action closed (Credit Safa Kadhim)


Thanks to Jess Worth, Danny Chivers, Greg Muttitt, Paula Serafini, Chris Garrard, Ben Diss and Steve.

This blog builds on the back of research being undertaken for the forthcoming book ‘Crude Britannia – How Big Oil shaped an nation’s past and future’ Due out in 2020.


  1. Culture Unstained:
  2. ‘I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria’,:,%20king%20of%20Assyria&eventType=Members%27%20lecture
  3. 100,000 residents:
  4. extremely high:
  5. more than 20 times:
  6. BP or not BP?:
  7. Campaign Against Arms Trade:
  8. Women in Black:
  9. Greenham Women who ‘Embraced the Base’ in 1982:
  10. who voiced their truths in turn:
  11. Fuel on the Fire’ :
  12. Ilaf Moslawy:
  13. : #_ftnref1


I have been involved in various climate campaigns and research projects for the last 10 years and have often found myself in rooms full of well meaning, reasonably wealthy, middle aged white people. They are usually the Heads of Sustainability or Corporate Responsibility in their places of work – banks, local authorities, consultancies, funding institutions. Wanting to do something about climate change, feeling the urgency (somewhat), well meaning but with limited power. The wider culture in their institution isn’t one that is aligned towards meaningful climate action. And even though I know these people as individuals are good intentioned, I rarely am able to shake the feeling that the reasons they care about climate action are different from why I care about it. There is no real mention of Global South communities or any deep sense that extreme climatic events will impact the quality of life of people in the Global North too, with all it’s repercussions on our food supply and sharpest impacts on the most vulnerable people.

Somethings have changed and somethings have not. I’ve been away from the “climate conference scene” for a year. Firstly, travelling on my bike across Europe during the continent’s hottest summer in recent years, dodging unusual thunderstorms, struggling to find lakes to swim in, and witnessing field after field of failed harvest. Then on my return being one of the Stansted 15 defendants, on trial for an action whose origins lie in a group of environmental direct action folks coming together to use their skills and knowledge in solidarity with global south migrants. My first foray back into the suited and booted climate conference scene after this break was the Covenant of Mayors Investment Forum – Energy Efficiency Finance Market Place in Brussels last week.

Myself and my colleague Rowan found ourselves in the gaudy ballroom of a hotel in the European Commission district of Brussels, hobnobbing with officers from city councils across Europe, bankers, technology companies, EU officers.We were there to learn what current best practice is regarding city authority led climate action for mPower,[1] our flagship EU funded 4 year peer-learning programme whose aim is to facilitate the development and replication of innovative municipal energy system projects which maximise citizen control and benefit. 

There wasn’t much (or any?) mention of the impacts of climate change on the Global South and Europe’s responsibility. But what has changed – and I really felt this – is that white middle class people are scared now. They finally believe that climate change is a thing that will impact their lives in substantial ways. And this belief is clearly translating into action – from city authorities, investors, private technology firms and the EU. The conference, in fact, began with a keynote speech that was both pessimistic and optimistic. We were told that the EU is most likely going to miss most of its 2030 climate targets but progress is being made to meet its 2050 climate targets. That every Thursday morning, tens of thousands of young people have been marching, passing outside the Crowne Plaza, where our conference was taking place, protesting against government inaction on climate change. That people all around the world were unhappy because their governments were not taking climate change seriously. That there was bottom up support now for strong political action on climate. Perhaps weird climate events whose frequency is increasing is finally waking Europe up – the February heatwave that was basking Europe in Spring like temperatures way too early in the year was mentioned more than once.


Young people fed up with government inaction marching in Brussels – February 2019

There was a lot of mention of targets – which gave me the sense that the Paris agreement is making a difference, and the EU 2030 and 2050 climate targets are giving city led action structure, direction and focus. The most exciting presentations were from city authorities – about what they are currently doing and how they got to this point. The cities who attended the conference are signatories of the Covenant of Mayors, an initiative[2] that describes itself as the “world’s largest movement for local climate and energy actions”. You can browse through of the best practice examples collected by the Covenant here.[3]

This was a conference on investment and finance – so of course there were many mentions of “competitiveness” and “making the business case to investors” for energy transition initiatives. I could feel myself hit my Peak Cynicism at such mentions, and wondering whether green capitalism is the best we can hope from such a crowd. And that may well be true to a great extent but I was also reminded at various points over the two days that we don’t have to settle for green capitalism. A common question to city authorities was: “how do you make the business case to investors” – and I smiled when one city officer from Rotterdam shrugged his shoulder and said: “we funded the project [4]ourselves”. With his shrugging the officer asserted that there is another way – a route where the financing of climate projects could be undertaken for the common good not in order to generate profits for private investors. Of course not all city authorities’ have the financial power to do so but it is encouraging when those who do make something of their power for their citizens.

But what was most encouraging was that many city authorities gave examples of projects where they are engaging with their local communities – and stressed the importance of doing so. As part of the mPower programme, we will specifically be working with decision makers in city authorities to embed, at a deeper level, energy transition projects that have energy democratic and justice principles. mPower will tackle all sorts of pertinent issues – how to attract finance for example, how to deploy smart grids or districting heating systems, how to conduct large scale retrofits and so on  – but at the heart of our approach and political vision is to facilitate greater and more meaningful democratic control and ownership.

I’ll probably always be a bit cynical of such conferences – but I tend to think a healthy dollop of cynicism is a good thing. I heard much fear and ambition in that room over two days – but I left wondering whether this will translate into meaningful climate action or get stuck at “making the business case”. I probably will wonder this for a while, taking solace that through mPower we at least have an opportunity to work directly with city authorities to go beyond green capitalism.

  1. mPower,:
  2. initiative:
  3. here.:
  4. project :

Daily Telegraph image to accompany publication of the leaked conference call – 15th January 2019


The storm in Westminster rages so ferociously that at times it’s hard to hear ourselves think. There is second by second coverage of the House of Commons and Downing Street from every conceivable angle. Backbenchers so obscure that we’ve never heard of them before are dragged through the TV studios and closely cross-questioned. Others gain their ‘moment of fame’ though ‘acts of principle’ such as resignation. The journalists watch like hawks the comings and goings of advisors to Number 10 for any chance indication of a change in direction by the Prime Minister.

Questions swirl around the corridors of Whitehall.

What happens if we have a No Deal Brexit? What will be the impact on the country, on the economy? Will the lorries back up around Dover jamming the ports, filing the motorways and spilling onto the reserved runways of nearby airports? Will the lack of basic foodstuffs cause social unrest?

The strange thing about this storm is who remains silent at the heart of it. The UK’s three largest companies on the London Stock Exchange, by market capitalisation, are HSBC, Shell and BP. As they have been for a long while. We have heard from the likes of the CEO of Airbus and the UK Manufacturing Director of Honda (neither company are listed on the London Stock Exchange), but where are John Flint, Ben van Beurden and Bob Dudley, the heads of each of these companies, in all of this?

John Flint – head of HSBC

The media talks of the question of the UK economy  and it’s imminent crisis (Will No Deal mean gridlock and panic buying?) and the question of its long term prospects (Will Brexit lead to companies winding down investment and shifting production out of the UK?) as though it is the ministers or shadow ministers, the backbenchers or advisors, who can or will direct these things. But we know in our bellies that this is not the case, that decisions about whether capital is directed away from the UK, or trucks are directed away from Dover, will take place not in the offices of public servants in Westminster, but in the offices of executives in private corporations.

Ben van Beurden – CEO of Shell

Of course we also know that ‘business’, or rather large corporate concerns, are not sitting there idly or as bemused as we are. Their task is simple, to generate return on private capital, to generate ‘shareholder return’, and every circumstance has to be assessed for its potential to do so. If the UK crashes out of the EU – then how can this event increase profits? If the UK does Brexit – then how can that be used to improve shareholder return?

Bob Dudley – CEO of BP

Platform’s knowledge is particularly built around the energy sector – especially oil & gas and wind – so how do these questions apply in this sector:

If the UK crashes out of the EU – how will Shell and BP use this to increase profits?

If the UK does Brexit – then how can that be used by Orsted and EON to improve shareholder return?

Only very occasionally does the media afford us any glimpse that this corporate debate is taking place. On the night of Tuesday 15th January Prime Minister May suffered the worst defeat of any key government bill in at least a century. It was widely taken as a given that the governments’ Brexit Plan would be defeated, but few had predicted that the opposition to it would be so strong. The shock waves in the commentariat were immediate and Minister’s hurried to calm public nerves.

It seems that the first to take action were three of the most important UK ministers, after May, the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, together with Greg Clark, Minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and Stephen Barclay, Secretary of State for Brexit. Less than 60 minutes after the vote had been declared they held a conference call with ‘business leaders’ from 330 ‘leading firms’.

Who were these ‘leading firms’? The reporting was scanty. The Evening Standard said they were “top brass from Amazon, BP, Balfour Beatty, the Post Office, Tesco, Siemens, Carolyn Fairbairn (CBI) and Richard Pennycook (of CoOp Retail and Head of the British Retail Consortium.)”. The Guardian added another name to the list, Scottish Power.

Who are these ‘top brass’? What do we know about them? We of course have names of those who attended from the side of the public – Hammond, Clark and Barclay – and we can find their biographies on-line, but only two of the ‘top brass’ were named in most of the reports in the papers.

Fortunately for us, such is the nature of these turbulent times that a tape of the conversation was leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Through that rare leak, we learn that from BP there was Peter Mather. Amazon UK was represented by Doug Gurr, and Tesco by chairman John Allan, who is also President of CBI. Jurgen Maier was there from Siemens UK, the largest manufacturer of wind turbines in Britain. And there was Kevin Anderson, CEO of Scottish Power, Simon Blagden, Co-chair of Fujitsu UK, Leo Quinn, CEO of Balfour Beatty, Paula Vennels, head of the Post Office and Vivian Hunt, managing partner at McKinsey & Co. From this we can glean the names of ‘leaders’ from 11 firms, but that apparently leaves 319 unaccounted for.

Greg Clark MP – Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

We shall have to await the release of any information via Freedom of Information requests, and as is the usual way, the names of those attending will have been blacked out, redacted for ‘commercial reasons’.

The Telegraph leak reveals much of the substance of the discussion (although the paper seems not to have released the full hour of the transcript). The focal point, which was at the heart of the Telegraph’s outrage, is the pressure that several of the executives put on ministers in order to get the government to pull a No Deal Brexit off the table. Hammond effectively gave his commitment that this is likely to happen – a suggestion that runs directly counter to the public announcements of Teresa May.

The anger of the Pro-Brexit Right at this intervention by ‘big business’ in the democratic workings of the British state was neatly expressed by the columnist Janet Daley. Writing in the Telegraph three days later she described how:

A British Chancellor, a Cabinet minister in charge of Brexit and a Business Secretary fall over each other to soothe and placate the leaders of over 300 multinationals, sounding like aspiring lobbyists competing for contracts as they assured the companies that they would do everything possible to prevent the no-deal outcome which their boards feared’.

She went on to explain ‘the multinationals are now as determined to snuff out the true spirit of free enterprise as they are to control the actions of governments. They are as protectionist in their instincts as an isolationist country and as fierce in defence of their power as a totalitarian regime.’

Stephen Barclay MP – Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

There is much talk of how ‘business does not like uncertainty’. But only a short reflection gives the lie to this truism, some business dislikes uncertainty, but much of business thrives on uncertainty. The entire realm of trading, in equities or commodities, in traded goods or currencies, depends on uncertainty, or turbulence as it’s better described. A static, unmoving market in oil, for example, is a dead market. Money is made by judging, or guessing, the future value of a commodity. If nothing moves, and no values change, there can be little profit to be made on trading. A turbulent market, a market with plenty of turbulence, is a profitable market. And this does not just apply to those companies who are described as ‘traders’ based in the likes of Canary Wharf, but also to the ‘big businesses’ such as Amazon, BP, Siemens and others. In 2015, BP had the worst financial results in its century long history, it’s value was effectively rescued by the soaring profitability of its trading arm, BP Integrated Supply & Trading. The head of that division of the corporation, Dr Brian Gilvray, is now Chief Financial Officer of the whole of BP.

From the leaked transcript it is clear the ‘top brass’ used the call to get a better understanding of how the Chancellor saw the coming weeks and months. For such intelligence will assist BP, Amazon et al to utilise and navigate the unfolding turbulence. Invariably this is reported as being in order to avoid losses, but is also invaluable in order to generate profits.

What then does the government want in return from assisting private corporations, from this rush to a conference call within minutes of the vote? Most likely it’s after reassurances on how the likes of Amazon, Tescos, BP and the British Retail Consortium will help maintain the free flow of goods within the UK amidst the growing anxiety over a No Deal export/ import mayhem

Not without reason the government’s greatest fear is of a breakdown of the distribution systems, of panic buying in the supermarkets, queues at the petrol stations and social unrest. There are good grounds for their fear. The memory of Whitehall is scarred by such events in the past.

The Winter of Discontent – 1978/79

The famed ‘Winter of Discontent’ that contributed so strongly to the rise of Mrs Thatcher in 1979, is remembered for the tales of bodies lying unburied in the morgues and piles of rubbish in the streets. But the disruption of two months began in December 1978 with an overtime ban by BP tanker drivers who were determined to defend the value of their wages in the midst of rising inflation. They struck, petrol did not reach the forecourts, queues jammed the streets, and Callaghan’s Labour government teetered on the brink of declaring a National Emergency and calling in the Army.

Just over twenty years later a similar crisis hit Blair’s Labour government in September 2000. Lorry drivers, protesting the rising cost of fuel that was destroying their livelihoods, blockaded the UK refineries such as Coryton and Stanlow and distribution hubs at Buncefield and Trafford Park. Within hours the supermarkets were feeling the pinch, there was panic buying and rumours of the cash tills running empty. Blair reacted with unprecedented urgency, demanding that the oil companies meet in Downing Street and help get the fuel flowing again. Executives from BP and Shell duly attended, but their slow response to the government’s demands illustrated their power and gave them a key tool in their battle to extract an improvement in the UK North Sea tax regime. The chief negotiator on the oil companies’ side was John Manzoni – then a senior executive at BP Refining & Marketing, now Chief Executive of the Civil Service, perhaps the most senior man in Whitehall. How the poachers turn gamekeepers.

John Manzoni – currently Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office – former executive in BP

So the government knows well what a distribution breakdown looks like, and the ‘top brass’ know Westminster’s anxiety. They can smell their fear. Wittingly or unwittingly, the likes of Amazon, Tesco and BP can exploit that fear – after all the main function of these companies is to generate return on capital, and only secondarily to provide a public service to UK citizens that ensures there are avocados on the shelves and copies of cookbooks and DVDs delivered to homes.

At the centre of the political storm are conversations between the government and private corporations over the prospects of the coming months. They are hugely influential in determining the course of Britain at this time. Yet they are hidden from public view and we the citizens are unable to hear the dialogue that takes place in those rare meetings we are granted a glimpse of. This is the silence at the heart of the storm.


Thanks to Jo Ram


This blog builds on the back of the research being undertaken for the forthcoming ‘Crude Britannia – How Big Oil shaped a nation’s past and future’ by James Marriott and Terry Macalister. Due out in 2020.



Barnacle Geese

We drive slowly down the winding lane that leads across the flat landscape on the northern flank of the Solway Firth in the county of Dumfries & Galloway. As we move onto the farmland of Preston Merse, we are distracted by the red stone ruin of Wreaths Tower. All that remains of the craggy weathered masonry of this shattered house, are a fragment of walling, a window lintel, a flight of stairs and the doorway of an upstairs room. Our eyes turn back to the road and we look down the slope ahead and over fields of bright green grass.

Only they are not green. They are covered in grey white snow. Or is it shingle? No, it is thousands of Barnacle Geese. A seething carpet of birds! We inch down the road, pull in and let down the windows. The morning air is filled with soft honks and squeaks and barks. There is an astounding number of creatures. All around us as we sit in our car. We feel the mass of another species, utterly uninterested in us, blind to us, absorbed in their realm. They are like the Wildebeest migrations on the Serengeti I watched on the TV as a child. They are like cliffs of Kittiwakes and Guillemots, Puffins and Gannets I’ve have gazed at in Shetland or the Faroes. We are trespassers into their land, their space, their stories, their song. This is the humbling phenomena of other beings.

At Mersehead RSPB reserve two miles west, we learn of the Barnacle Geese of Solway. The woman at the desk is full of excitement and quiet pride. She is part of a team of Solway Watchers who each autumn draw information from bird counts across the Firth and thus estimate the numbers arriving from the North.

Location of Svalbard

Forty-two thousand, the entire geese population of the Arctic island of Svalbard, migrate each autumn – 2,000 miles down the coast of Norway, across the North Sea to Northumbria and over the Pennines to the Solway Firth. They fly by night, feed by day, avoiding predators, wary of humans with guns. In 2018 the first arrived on Saturday 22nd September 2018. A full 11,070 birds were counted on the fields of Preston Merse on Friday 12th October. Svalbard is one of a handful of places on Earth that these geese breed, so the population that spends the Autumn and Winter in Solway, and the Spring and Summer on that Arctic island, is the majority of the world population.

How many generations of geese have done this since the Ice Age? The people who lived in the Wreaths Tower in the 16th Century must have looked out upon these same fields and salt marshes and marvelled at the arrival of this winged horde. They must have studied the numbers just as the Solway Watchers do today. The geese have their own their stories, their song lines, that narrate the journey from Svalbard to Solway and back. They store the memory. They act out the memory.

We peer through binoculars and study the delicacy of the plumage of these graceful creatures. Black and white and grey. The edges of each block of colour is so precise, so clean, so perfect. And I am remembering my dear friend Doreen Massey. It is two and a half years since she died, but she is with us here. (An obituary to here is elsewhere on this blog[1]) For how she loved the geese. Often she would go birdwatching with her sister at Ravenglass, just south of here. And once she was among a party who journeyed to Svalbard in the Arctic.

Quite suddenly they take off! 5,000 geese take to the air, exploding off the ground all around us. My mouth drops open. The sky is filled with the sound of their wings, the squeaking, the thrumming of feathers through air. They hum like a swarm of bees.

Barnacle Geese in flight

I am here together with my mother. We have come not only to search out the geese but also to explore the villages, hills and beaches where she lived briefly as a child. She was only three when she arrived here, effectively evacuated away from a home in Essex, east of London, as the German air raids began. This is the place of her first memories, and they are etched into her mind so deeply.

Like the geese we are creatures of memory. My mother recalls the beach, the houses and the lanes of Rockliffe. The apple tree that hung over the road and from which she took fruit to quench her thirst in the heat. There are deeper, distant echoes of our family here in 1800s and before. The dampness, the small fields grazed by Black Cattle, divided by outcrops of rock in the valley of the Urr and Nithsdale. The tightly enclosed farm yards, buildings with their backs to the wind and snow. The woods of Kirkennan filled with Ash, Oak, Rowan, Beech and Hawthorn. The sound of the geese overhead in the autumn. The fabric of memory stretched over the land.


Graph of Svalbard surface temperature – 1750 to present


What if the geese too were to become just a memory? If the sea temperature in the Solway Firth alters then of course it will alter the ecosystem of this region, and impact on the feeding grounds of the geese. More dramatically climate change means the Arctic is warming at an exponential rate. Studies reveal how the mean temperatures of Svalbard have risen steadily since 1960s.

It is indisputable that this shift is impacting upon the ecosystem of Svalbard. Fossil fuel emissions, from the life support system of our industrial society, are eroding the life support system of the geese. If this change continues is it not likely that this population of the Barnacle Geese will collapse? And with that will go the annual migration and the sound of the geese over the fields of Solway? A pattern of birds arriving and departing, that must have been central to the hunter-gatherer families living here in the Mesolithic, will disappear.

Of course we do not not know for sure that this will happen. But unfortunately by the time we do know, by the time the numbers of 42,000 geese dwindle, it will be too late. Inexorably, another species will go under. Rendered extinct. Become only a memory.


A week after we watched the geese WWF[2] and the Zoological Society of London[3] published their bi-annual Living Planet Report.[4] The research studied more than 4,000 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians and discovered that their populations had fallen by an average of 60% since 1974. In my lifetime a mass extinction has been taking place. Myriads of creatures are being pushed into memory. Destroyed by an industrial system that has cosseted me from cradle to middle age.

This annihilation does not go unnoticed. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the day after the publication of this report came the first public action of a new movement – Extinction Rebellion[5]. In Parliament Square a declaration was read out built on material from the group’s new website:

We are in an ecological crisis caused by climate change, pollution and habitat destruction; a mass species extinction on a scale much larger than the one which killed the dinosaurs is underway….

Change to avert the worst of the disaster is still technically and economically possible. The changes won’t be simple but there is nothing more important or worthwhile. It involves creating a world which is less frenetic and more beautiful. This is an emergency situation – action is urgent.

The Declaration came together with a set of demands –

  1. That the Government must tell the truth about how deadly our situation is, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.
  2. Good intentions and guidelines won’t save the ice caps. The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions in the UK to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.

Over a thousand folks gathered in the sunlit square to hear speeches and the prayers of ministers from several different faiths. Many lay down in the road, locking themselves to each other, in order to prevent removal and block the traffic. Fifteen were arrested, following the planned strategy to crowd the courts with resisters. They were all later released.

This movement has its critics. It is certainly no more perfect than others than have gone before. The strategy of forcing change through activists risking arrest and imprisonment seems to wilfully neglect the reality that oppression in the UK is unevenly distributed. That for a person of colour to face the police is an utterly different experience than for a white person. Some of the statements from those who talk for the movement seem to ignore the fact that the impacts of climate change, as they take place across the globe, are experienced disproportionately by the already impoverished and marginalised, and this pattern is racialised.[6]

But there is a sense of something brewing here. A feeling of desperation that is spawning direct action – just as took place against nuclear missiles in the 1980s and the UK government’s intoxication with road building in the 1990s. Something is stirring.


Extinction Rebellion action to block the bridges of Central London – Westminster Bridge 18th November 2018

I’m standing on Westminster Bridge in sharp Autumn sunlight. There are a few thousand people here. The passage of traffic is blocked by this great gathering.[7] The organic ebb and flow of a peaceful crowd. The constant chatter of voices. The bright colours of clothes. At one place on this wide highway the demonstrators are packed more tightly. Some sit on the tarmac listening to the speakers who rise to use an open mic. Lucy Neal, part of the family of Platform for so many years, takes the stand. She reminds us of the nature of this place, a bridge spanning the great River Thames, its brown mid-tide waters falling towards the North Sea.

I look beyond her. There is the silhouette of Lambeth Bridge, the figures of another group of ‘blockaders’ clearly visible under an array of banners and flags. The Police vans lined up at the northern end, doubtless processing some of the 80 people arrested this day.

Five main bridges in the capital city were blocked for many hours. Pledges were taken that actions will continue and numbers will rise. Despite the bright colours perhaps this body of human beings is responding to a feeling of grief? Perhaps they, like the geese, rise like a swarm? Perhaps they are responding to the memory that it is only through direct action that dramatic changes in the trajectory of society taken place? Perhaps by acting together they are creating memory – ‘Yes, I was there that day too … the day we blocked the bridges.’ These festivals of resistance press the issue into the public mind, they create collective memory, even for those who did not attend.


I think back to the experience of the Barnacle Geese taking to the air from the fields of Preston Merse. How do I face the reality of their possible destruction? How do I face the melancholy that comes from recognising we are burning the life world of other animals? That we are stoking a great pyre of other beings.

Perhaps this melancholy connects within me to the fear of the annihilation of those I love … of Doreen, of my mother. The inevitability of the loss of those we love. We deal with this loss by the maintenance of memory. With my mother I go searching for evidence of the homes and graves of our ancestors. For ‘The dead only die when the living cease to remember them’.

Perhaps texts such as the Living Planet Report are written so that we do not forget the species we have destroyed? There must be thousands of books on the Dodo. We fear that if other beings are rendered extinct and then they are forgotten, they will be erased. But what if there is no one left to remember the dead?

How difficult it is to imagine our own extinction as a culture, as a people. And yet this process of extinction has been fundamental to the history of Western European ‘civilisation’, especially since the 15th century. In every corner of the globe, entire peoples have been driven to the edge of genocide or beyond – by the Spanish in Central America, by the British in Australia, by the Germans in Southern Africa, and so much more. Are we turning this brutal cultural pattern on ourselves in an act of self-destruction, an act of exterminism that will shatter the house of all other species in the process?

I ask myself, what would Doreen say about the altering of the climate in Svalbard? Would she have been here on this bridge? What was her sense of the mass extinction of other species? Perhaps it was not truly vivid to her? I don’t remember we ever spoke of it. Perhaps it was less pressing for her and her generation. The generation of my mother, for they were born only 7 years apart.

As we talk over the geese, my mother mentions climate change. I am surprised. It is so rare for us to touch on this conversation. Perhaps she too feels the shadow.

Maybe the joyful chaos of actions like the Rebellion on the bridges of London can lift the shadow? I feel compelled to try.

With thanks to Lucy Neal and Rowan Mataram

Extinction Rebellion declaration


  1. on this blog:
  2. WWF:
  3. Zoological Society of London:‎
  4. Living Planet Report.:
  5. Extinction Rebellion:
  6. and this pattern is racialised.:
  7. this great gathering.:

The main atrium of Central St Martins College of Art & Design

In the Autumn I attended an utterly inspiring Shake! & Stuart Hall Foundation event – the launch of the Black Cultural Activism Map.[1] It was held at the Platform theatre space in the Central Saint Martin’s art school – CSM – part of University of the Arts London. This new premises is a vast warehouse of the arts, opened in 2011 inside the former Kings Cross Station ‘Granary Building’, a mid 19th Century storehouse for London’s grain. As I sat in the theatre’s foyer waiting for the audience to arrive with colleagues Vivian and Lilian, we ruminated together on this imposing corporate building, with its studios, teaching rooms, theatre and gallery.

Several of us had struggled to find the right entrance and were exasperated by the high security everywhere. We asked each other: “What is this place? It feels more like a penitentiary than an art college!” We reflected on how the cavernous entrance halls with their ping-pong tables and high-up walkways reminded us of the jails in American movies. We stared in disbelief at the plastic wristbands we had to wear in order to be allowed through the glass crash barriers, a portal that is staffed even on a sleepy Saturday afternoon by a full time security guard.

This building is such a far cry from the mildly chaotic liberty that was experienced in British art schools from the 1960s up until the 1990s. How on earth could the rebellious spirit that fostered the likes of John Latham’s ‘[2]Spit & Chew: Art and Culture’ performance at St Martin’s, or the occupation at Hornsey College of Art in 1968[3], or the spirit of Punk in the mid ‘70s come out of these factory halls?

The core of CSM is the Central School of Arts & Crafts, established in 1896 with public funds by the London County Council, under the leadership of William Lethaby, close follower of William Morris the revolutionary communist.[4] Arguably, the art colleges of this city have been turned into boot camps for capital, churning out recruits to the armies of the Art Market. “Knuckle down artist, and focus on marketing yourself !”It feels as though the rebellious soul of the art schools from the 1950s onwards has been drummed out of here, wiped away from its squeaky clean surfaces.

As we sat in the foyer one of the staff came by, and clearly speaking off the record, expressed his amazement at how difficult it was to find your way around Central St Martin’s and indeed the whole Kings Cross Development. “The Everyman Cinema across the road isn’t allowed to have a proper sign! Neither is the Aga Khan Islamic Centre just here, which was opened by Prince Charles”. We asked why that is, he replied “That’s the way ‘Argent’ wants it.” “Who’s Argent?”, we asked. “The developers’, he replies.

Kings Cross development by Argent – with the front of Central St Martins College of Art & Design

So who is this ”Argent’[5]? What is their history? And therefore ours?

They are the developers behind the massive Kings Cross site[6] that is being created as an entirely new ‘city within a city’. It is evolving in the way that Canary Wharf did, only this will not be the new Financial Hub but the new Big Data Hub, as Google builds it’s first non-US base here with 650,000 sq feet of offices, nuzzling up to other residents such as Facebook. This is the new so-called ‘Knowledge Quarter’ clustered around existing international institutions: The British Museum, The British Library, The Wellcome Trust, the Francis Crick Institute and The Guardian.

Time and again London spawns these epicentres. In the 1950s and 60s there was one of Oil & Culture on the South Bank (around the Shell Centre and the Royal Festival Hall). In the 1990s & 2000s there was one around Finance & Culture in the Docklands (around Canary Wharf and the O2 Millennium Dome). Now a new one is arising of Capital & Data (around Kings Cross and Bloomsbury). Each of these ‘epicentres’ builds on the imperial role of London – an empire of oil, an empire of finance, an empire of data. These epicentres not only create colonised states around the world but they marginalise whole swathes of the people of this city and this country.

The ‘Knowledge Quarter’ declares that the knowledge that it owns is ‘knowledge’ and that other ways of knowing, other experiences, are not ‘knowledge’. During the event in the Platform theatre, the launch of the Black Cultural Activism Map, we watched Dehlia Snoussi’s short film. So intimate in its exploration of the streets of West London it asserts a different way of knowing, a different set of understandings, from the ‘mainstream knowledge’. Here is knowledge, understanding, pitted against power. An assertion that our history, that our experience, is ‘knowledge’ – knowledge that can act as our guide.

Who really is this Argent that gets wealthy from selling real estate to these great manufactories of mainstream culture, these production lines of ‘knowledge’? It is a private equity company, an LLD, privately owned and so not open to the kinds of scrutiny to which civil society campaigners have subjected PLCs, (companies listed publicly on the London Stock Exchange) since the 1970s. This is a company who was a joint-partner in the development of Manchester Airport (place of an anti-airport campaign in the late 1990s), the Ffos-y-Fran opencast coal mine in South Wales for twenty years until 2016 (location of a powerful Keep it in Ground action in 2016[7]) and is now embroiled in battles over massive housing schemes in the London Borough of Haringey. And the ownership of Argent? This is private information, but there’s little doubt that it is fuelled by capital from overseas, capital that does not pay its taxes in the UK.

Action at Foss-y- Fran by Reclaim Power – May 2016

But there is resistance to capital even within the halls of CSM. Soon after the afternoon in the theatre, I met with David Cross, artist, teacher at University of the Arts and long since part of the wider Platform family. Since the mid 1990s David has explored ecology and social justice, and especially the conundrum of ‘sustainable development’, through his art and his teaching practice. And for the better part of a decade he has pressured the executives of UAL – who ultimately oversee the running of Central St Martin’s – to divest from fossil fuels and switch away from the use of the Royal Bank of Scotland, for so long so deeply imbedded in financing oil and gas projects.

He has met stubborn opposition. The university had declared its commitment to ‘sustainability’, but when he proposed that their actions should align with their declarations:

There was total silence – they just looked at me, astonished, as if to ask: “How could you, an academic, tell us how to run our university?”

As David explains further: “I realised that we had a fault line running through the university: between its public declarations and its actual material operations. And this fault line follows a division that is structured into the university: academics and students practise creative and critical thought, self-reflectively testing their assumptions and refining ideas, open and exposed to the scrutiny of their peers. But the people who now run the university as a business – estates and operations, financial managers, executives, consultants and so on – are not exposed to such scrutiny. They don’t have to explain themselves to a sceptical audience. They take their decisions more or less in private and announce them in briefings to the staff and students, who find that the university has been put in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt to an ecocidal bank, while wanting to believe that the university cares about sustainability.”

However, undeterred, David maintained pressure on the issue which was picked up by the student body. Linking with the Divest Fossil Fuels[8] movement a ‘UAL: Fossil Free’ petition was launched and five student activists staged a ‘die-in’. They lay down in the very halls that we had later gazed upon with such dismay.


Action by Divest UAL in the main atrium of Central St Martins College of Art & Design – autumn 2015

It was a striking display of vulnerability in the heart of the CSM. A moment of resistance, a moment of history, so quickly erased. A piece ‘our knowledge’ that needs to be held onto, an action that is heir to Latham’s ‘Spit & Chew: Art and Culture’ and the Hornsey occupation.

And things began to move. Surprisingly quickly UAL shifted towards divestment. In November 2015 Nigel Carrington, Vice-Chancellor of UAL, announced: “UAL’s commitment not to invest in fossil fuel helps our strategy to put sustainability at the heart of everything we do. We hope it will be welcomed by our staff and students.” However the divestment of the university’s endowment fund, is only a small step and there is still a long way to go before all of UAL’s finances are fossil free.

It seems that this fault line that David observed, not only runs between the academic staff and the executive staff, but also between the valiant work of the Divestment movement and the forces that shape the city in which we live. At what point will there arise a demand that a public institution such as CSM breaks free from private capital concerns such as Argent? At what point do these companies get held up to scrutiny? At what point does this art school come to stand on publicly owned land – just as its forbear, Central School of Arts & Crafts, did when it was first established?

With thanks to David Cross.


  1. the launch of the Black Cultural Activism Map.:
  2. John Latham’s ‘:
  3. Hornsey College of Art in 1968:
  4. William Morris the revolutionary communist.:
  5. Argent’:
  6. Kings Cross site:
  7. location of a powerful Keep it in Ground action in 2016:
  8. Divest Fossil Fuels:

Bruce Mackenzie – smiling as he leaflets for Wandsworth Stop the War at Southfields station.


In the flurry of a Tuesday afternoon, I receive an unexpected e-mail from Vicki Carroll. The header has your name in it Bruce, and I know instinctively within an instant what the message holds. I hover a while and then open the text to read the inevitable.

You have stepped over, passed through the thin membrane that is stretched between this breathing life and that other space. I am not shocked by the news. Just calm and full of light. You always lived so close to that membrane that your passing does not come as a surprise. When I later talk with Vicki and share stories of you – we both loved you – I sense that she too is not surprised.

To feel full of light is just as you would wish me to feel. You yourself have always been a radiant being. Our paths intertwined for perhaps twenty-five years. It is strange to reflect that you were younger than me now when we met. You must have been in your late forties in 1992. Yet throughout quarter of a century it seemed that you remained true, and constant – the same figure, tall, thin, with long coat and big boots, a deep mellifluous voice and always so gentle.

We in Platform came into your orbit through our first work on the River Wandle. I never knew how long you had already lived in Wandsworth in those days, it felt that you had been there always. You were so benign and welcoming to us young, nervous, and at times abrasive, incomers. Alongside Steve Parry – that Superkings-smoking, Guinness-drinking hurricane of a community activist – you were a pillar of all that Platform tried to do in Wandsworth and Merton.

I remember you participating in our Tides & Tributes project with the eight-year old pupils of St Joseph’s School – standing on a street corner, patiently allowing them to cross-question you as a ‘Citizen of Wandsworth’.

I remember you in that upstairs room in The Crane pub on Armoury Way, a regular attender to the meetings of the Wandle Delta Network that Steve chaired in bearded majesty.

Without you, your delight and encouragement, we would never have been able to maintain the fifteen-year struggle to sing up the Wandle and call for the RENUE network of solar and wind-powered community buildings to be established along that South London valley. You were always calm and thoughtful, in endless planning meetings, in constant efforts to lobby Wandsworth Borough Council and Merton Borough Council, and in cajoling the Millennium Commission to support that pioneering vision. Alongside Vicki, Steve, Su Assinen, Gavin Killip and Tuija Halonen, you were central to that determined adventure.

And you were so much more. A pianist, a song writer, a performer in the pubs of Balham and Tooting. An utterly tireless campaigner for the Green Party, for Wandsworth Environment Forum, for the Miners’ Support Network, for Wandsworth Anti-Austerity Campaign, Wandsworth Stand Up to Racism and Wandsworth Welcomes Refugees. You were pivotal to the local branch of the Stop the War Coalition, often to be seen on peace demonstrations in Westminster, and a campaigner for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay prison.

I remember that you were there when, following in the wake of Steve and Ernest Rodker, we drove through the night to rural Northamptonshire and started digging up the lawn of Michael Heseltine MP, in protest at his Ministry’s support of open cast coal mining.

 I remember you as central to ‘The Land is Ours’ action on the banks of the Thames in Wandsworth – the squatting and holding of the ‘Pure Genius’ site.

You were always committed to the same ideals, always constant in your loyalty to Wandsworth in spite of the stubborn recalcitrance of an unchanging bloc of Tory councillors. Whilst others – and Platform was among them – slowly drifted away from the Wandle Valley, you remained true to it.

As Vicki and I talk over our memories we realise that despite your pure and constant presence, you remained an enigma to us. We try and sketch out something of a biography – you were born in perhaps 1945 or 1947. It seems that, though you came from a Scots family, you did not grow up in those northern lands, nor in London. (I think now of your soft voice, and it is hard to place a trace of accent in it). We think that you once said you had lived and worked in Africa. Certainly from the early 1990s you were in the flat that you rented in Trinity Road, Wandsworth – living a life of powerful frugality, recycling all that you could, taking such care to consider your material impact on the world. As we jetted and trained around the globe, I only remember you travelling once or twice – and I think both of those were to Scotland. At some point you became a Buddhist, certainly in seemed that way, even if you were not formally ‘of that faith’. Your annual cards at winter solstice – in careful and clear handwriting – shone with your burning desire for a more peaceful future.

As I write this, I miss you already. But you are not gone. You are still there just the other side of that thin membrane. We know that, like the rest of us, you are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Stansted 15 trial. We know that you too are hoping that some future Red/Green government might defend the NHS and renounce nuclear defence. We know that you too are anxious about the seeming impossibility of averting climate chaos.

We should no more exile you to oblivion, than ban the entry of children into our lives. ‘The dead only die when the living cease to remember them.’ We keep your memory close because we need your calm assistance, as we try to maintain this carnival of resistance against destruction, and this celebration of the humane and all living beings.

Thank you Bruce for everything you’ve done with us all thus far. There will be more memories together.

(With thanks to Vicki Carroll and Pat Sheerin)

Akeim Toussaint Buck performs Sai Murray’s poem ‘Stop Signs’

We watch in wonder as dancer Akeim Toussaint Buck[1] moves his body as fluid as water across the black box of the stage. Our eyes are transfixed as the voice of activist Max Farrar intones the words of Sai Murray’s[2] poem ‘Stop Signs’ over the sound system.

And in Lane number 1 from Nigeria, wearing 1969, and now running out of Leeds, David Oluwale.

Lane number 2, hailing from Hornsey, Andre Savvas, 1971

Lane number 3, Aseta Simms, Stoke Newington, 1971

Lane number 4, Lil’ Douza, Oxford, 1972

Lane number 5, Horace Bailey, Ashford, 1973

Lane number 6, Stephen Bernard, Ladywell, 1974

Lane number 7, Joseph Lawrence, Brixton, 1974

Lane number 8, John Lamaletie, Hornsey, 1974

Lane number 9, Adeenarain Neelayya, Chatham, 1977

Lane number 10, Basil Brown, Albany, 1977…

A list of people of colour who have been killed in police custody in England since 1969. The verse, as so often with Sai’s work, is bittersweet. There’s a brutal humour in the way he has set this list as the names of runners in some unholy race. This is a roll call of the dead. Their names should be remembered by us all, eternally.

We are at the London launch of the ‘Black Cultural Activism Map[3]’, a youth-led project initiated by Stuart Hall Foundation, curated by Farzana Khan. The launch showcases the commissions created by the Nawi Collective[4] choir, Voices that Shake![5], Globe Poets[6], Skin Deep[7] magazine (all London-based), and RECLAIM[8] from Manchester. This sophisticated afternoon of dance, song, film, poetry and speeches unfolds seamlessly in front of a rapt audience, MC’d by Rotimi Skyers, in the impressive venue of Central St Martin’s[9] ‘Platform Theatre’.  The event unfolds seamlessly thanks to the support and expertise of the technicians.

Place, ownership, alienation, and resistance come up repeatedly this afternoon. Seated in this well-appointed venue, once warehouses in the industrial underbelly of 19th century  London, I am struck by the work of  filmmaker Dhelia Snoussi. She shot it on the streets around Ladbroke Grove using her phone camera. Such gentle and deft beauty mesmerizingly draws us into the pre-gentrification spirit of the place and her experience of growing up there. She startles us by setting this against a clip from an excruciating promotional video created by the estate agent Savilles to attract foreign capital to buy property in the neighbourhood. As one of the residents in the film describes, the extraordinary vibrancy of the communities of this part of West London, symbolised by the Notting Hill Carnival, is now being used to market the houses of these streets as investments. The influx of overseas capital drives up property prices, and drives out the very people who since the 1950’s have made this part of London come alive. The film perfectly encapsulates the brutality of gentrification, through which a tsunami of capital pushes out long established families and erases collective memory. So many of the young people in the Shake! family are impacted by gentrification, as their lives are made more precarious or they are forced out of London. Capital erases people. It erases the history even of a place such as the buildings which this theatre sits within.


The members of the amazing Nawi collective

Later, our eyes stream with tears as the almost unbearable beauty of the songs performed by Nawi Collective flow into our ears.

When we ask them they say ‘Rise up!’

When we ask them they say ‘Don’t stop!’

When we ask them they say ‘Take your time, You are gold’.

Such an extraordinary evocation of the presence of the ancestors. The sense that we all have elders that we can honour and be guided by.

A speaker from the RECLAIM team comes to the podium and quotes Maya Angelou “When you enter the room, be accompanied by your people”. Our eyes are glued to the film of young RECLAIM activists exploring Manchester, uncovering its Black history – from the pivotal 1945 Pan-African Conference held in All Saints, to a meeting with Erinma Bel[10]l, a Black peace activist who led a campaign against gun violence on Moss Side and a visit to the People’s History Museum[11]. One of the activists says, as she learnt about great black orators, writers intellectuals and trade unionists: “We all deserve to know our history”.

Under the theatre, part of the massive redevelopment of Kings Cross for private profit, lies a radical history as David A Bailey, who grew up nearby, reminds us. “This is where Gay’s the Word started”, he says. And here was a fulcrum of Black activism in the 1970s, the Keskidee Centre on Gifford Street which featured in Bob Marley’s film for ‘Is this love?’. The erasure that comes with redevelopment and gentrification is not merely accidental is has a function, it helps keep power (white and patriarchal) in place.

Bob Marley performing at the Keskidee Center on Gifford Street

To close the event our dazzling Platform comrade and flame of Shake!, Farzana Khan, takes the podium. She beautifully unfolds how we should each ‘take responsibility for our society’ and do so ‘not at some point in the future but right now’, and that as we do so we should strive to ‘become more human humans’. Our souls lift and are charged with the energy to maintain the resistance, to assert our history, uncover buried histories, and assert that our experience is ‘knowledge’ – knowledge that can act as our guide and be a lever for change.


(With thanks to Sai Murray and Jane Trowell)


  1. Akeim Toussaint Buck:
  2. Sai Murray’s:
  3. Black Cultural Activism Map:
  4. Nawi Collective:
  5. Voices that Shake!:
  6. Globe Poets:
  7. Skin Deep:
  9. Central St Martin’s:
  10. Erinma Bel:
  11. People’s History Museum:
  12. : #_ftnref1

News just in: the UK is spending its official development aid funds to promote fracking abroad. The Foreign Office financed two projects in China to “export UK expertise in shale gas development”, aiming to create “an improved business environment” for UK companies. Our research, released today in collaboration with Friends of the Earth and Christian Aid,[1] also shows that the Foreign Office funded 14 more projects to promote oil and gas drilling in India, Myanmar, Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.

Protestors blockading fracking drill rig supplier PR Marriott in Derbyshire. Credit: Reclaim the Power


  1. Our research, released today in collaboration with Friends of the Earth and Christian Aid,:

The beach at Mersea Island, Essex


Quite suddenly the light has gone. We are left to complete our voyage in the growing dark. The sea charts cease to become legible, the OS map strains the eyes. The words of that fount of all Thames Estuary sailing advice, Charlie Stock, are ringing in our ears

‘When night sailing, do not use a torch.’

There’s a steady south-westerly wind, strong enough to make against the ebbing tide and, despite it being the end of Summer, it is still warm. The prow of the boat ploughs the waves pushing us closer to our destination of mooring and sleep.

We stare at the dark forms of the land. The lights from the distant houses of West Mersea grow in strength, some piercing sharp white, others soft smudging sodium yellow. The profile of the island of Mersea becomes more pronounced against the paler sky, but it is a dark night of cloud through which no stars or moon penetrate.

We have to use our eyes, not to see the land, but to feel it. To caress its shape with our gaze. Finger tips moving across its body in the twilight. We strive to determine the channels that weave into the land. Is this Bessom Fleet? Is that Cobmarsh Island? Is Mersea Fleet really over there?

We drink in the world through the eyes. Staring so hard into the gloom, as though looking into the face of a new born child. Trying to determine the character of the land.

There is the white navigation light of where The Nass beacon should be. Flashing four times and then a pause. We count the beats. They match and we have a clear location. That then must be the entrance to the Mersea Fleet, with the buoys marking the channel into the land. Lower buoy lights flashing weaker green or red. These yachts must be on the line of mooring buoys. Ahead is the silhouette of the shed for packing oysters on Packing House Island. We have reached the sheltered water to which we were sailing. We make fast and raise the tent for the night. Curlews and Oystercatchers call in the dark.

The waters around Mersea Island, Essex

This is an island – Mersea Island – that we have sailed by on several occasions, but never tried to explore. In these past six hours we have completed almost a circumnavigation. Round the north-eastern end, along the shallow Pyefleet channel on its western side up to the Strood causeway that rushes with cars coming on and off the island. Back down the Pyefleet, along the eastern coast of the island facing out into the North Sea, and now around the south-western tip, up the Blackwater estuary, coming to rest in the Mersea Fleet.

I think of all the peoples who’ve lived on the seven square miles of this muddy isle. The hunter gatherers and first farmers whose names and languages are lost to us. (What words did they use to describe Mersea Fleet?) Then those that spoke Celtic and Latin, ploughing the fields, fishing the waters. For this was an epicentre of Roman colony of Britannia, close to the city of Colchester and the towns of Chelmsford and Kelvedon, and protected by the massive fort of Othona. (What names did these people give to the villages on the island?) Then the Angles. Their settling irradicated all the words that proceeded them and they left us the names for Mersea – Mer-sig – ‘The Island in the Sea’

To settle the land. To become settled. To become un-settled. To become restless.

We are caught between these forces, attracted and repelled. But the petrol exploding in the pistons of the engines in the cars on The Strood road fuels that restlessness. We rush everywhere because we do not feel at home. We do not feel at home so we rush everywhere. We are un-settled.

Ordnance Survey map of Mersea Island in 1896

Earlier in the summer I had gazed down on Mersea Island. I was squeezed close between my mother and father in the tight seats of a Lufthansa Airbus A60 hurtling through the sky from Frankfurt to Heathrow. I was helping my infirm parents go on holiday and having the unfamiliar experience of flying. That strange miracle of looking at the surface of the Earth. As in a dream I could see Mersea Island, noiseless at the mouths of the River Blackwater and River Colne. I tried to point out the features of the Estuary to my mother, the towns of Colchester and Maldon. But the land shuttled by like so much television.

We settle down. We settle upon. We settle up. We are settlers in the land.

With each new settlement comes a destruction of language. An epistimicide. Franz Fanon describes with searing articulacy the fight against the settlers in the lands of Algeria. The intensity of violence at the heart of the struggle for survival. I wonder what kind of struggle took place here between the hunter gatherers and the first farmers? Between the first famers and the Celts? Between the Celts and the Romans? Between the Romano-British and the Angles?

Cars crossing The Strood to Mersea Island flooded by an especially high tide

Is there a similar struggle now – to understand a new way to settle the land and sea? A new way to describe it. A new web of words and stories. A veil of understanding stretching over the land as we battle against the explosions in the car engines and the roar of the jet engines overhead?

We are trying to find a new settlement out the other side of the petroleum world. We stare at the land about us. We look at it anew.

I’m reminded of the banner that Platform once stretched across an old abandoned goodsyard at the mouth of the River Wandle in London:

The Measure of the New Days is a love of the Surface of the Earth like the Skin of a Lover.




(Thanks to Jane Trowell, skipper)

A light projection onto the famous Leith Hill Tower celebrating the victory to stop fracking around this beautiful Surrey Hill

This piece was written before the news of the draconian jail sentences passed on those opposing fracking in Preston, Lancashire … but that bitter ruling does not destroy the reality that shortly before that decision we celebrated a Victory! The News of an Amazing Victory! We wrote of it as follows …

The permission to continue work at the Bury Hill Wood fracking site at Leith Hill near Dorking has been refused to Europa Oil & Gas! A ten-year epic struggle to prevent drilling on this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Surrey Hills has been won! This is an incredible achievement by an incredible campaign to defend these hills and the springs of the Black Brook that feeds the River Mole which flows on into the Thames. The news was celebrated on Saturday 8th September by Dorking being one of the myriad locations where’s Rise for Climate[1] took place around the world.

The victory is testament to the Protectors that maintained the Save Leith Hill[2] camp for 16 months through a harsh winter, eviction and intense aggression from the private security forces hired by the fracking companies. It is testament to Leith Hill Action Group, Voice for Leith Hill, some local councillors, Friends of the Earth[3], the Green Party[4] and most of all the thousands of others who blockaded the drill site, lobbied politicians locally and nationally, petitioned the companies and built networks of solidarity across Britain and internationally. We are inspired by our long term Platform friends, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey[5] who live in Dorking and have given so much time and imagination to this fight, making it part of their ever provoking artwork.[6] We salute you!

Poster for Ackroyd & Harvey’s ‘The Lark Descending’ artwork around Leith Hill – May 2018

The victory at Leith Hill, which came with an announcement from the Minister for Environment, Michael Gove, that Europa Oil & Gas would not have a lease enabling drilling on Forestry Commission land renewed, is galvanizing not only in Surrey but also across the UK. Europa’s project was a joint venture with Egdon Resources, Angus Energy, Union Jack Oil and UK Oil & Gas, and this partnership will consider drilling the Holmwood Oil Prospect from another location, but this does appear to be the end for the project. Patrick Nolan of Leith Hill Action Group[7] wrote to members:

Over the last ten years, we at the Leith Hill Action Group have been told by many people in many circumstances that we were just fighting the inevitable.  It has been put to me in radio interviews that it was pointless to keep going and that we should just let Europa get on with it.  We have faced attitudes from public officials that we were just delaying the unavoidable.  However, today’s announcement shows the value of continuing the fight.”

Whilst Lucy Barford, of Voice for Leith Hill[8], said:

“There will be other battles ahead, oil drilling is still planned for other sites across the Weald, but for now we will be celebrating the fantastic news that there will be no oil drilling at Leith Hill.”

She is correct of course, for the battle against fracking continues to rage across the country, with iconic fights at Balcombe in Sussex, Rydale in North Yorkshire and, most infamously, at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Protest against INEOS’s injunction against those opposing their plans to frack – May 2018

The Leith Hill victory came in the same week that Platform, in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Earth Scotland and, published a powerful new report – ‘Divest Fracking – How UK councils are banking on dirty gas’[9]

These two key events allow a chance to review the situation for fracking in Britain and ask some basic questions including: Why is the oil & gas industry doing this? And why now? Who is driving this?

In 1964 the Tory government of Sir Alec Douglas-Home began to license areas of the UK North Sea for oil and gas exploration. Initially interest from the oil industry was half-hearted, but when gas was discovered at West Sole in September 1965 the pace picked up, and when oil was found at the Forties Field in October 1970, the gold rush was on. The UK sector of the North Sea became, alongside the Norwegian sector, a ‘site of speculation’, a place where money could be made, where capital could be invested and profit generated. The UK North Sea became a ‘profit centre’ for the western oil corporations and remains so today. To make this possible a new infrastructure had to be created.

In order for oil to be extracted from 11,000 feet beneath the seabed and transported through hundreds of miles of pipeline, as in the case of the Forties Field, the physical infrastructure had to be built. In order for this to happen the financial infrastructure had to be constructed, with government financing of everything from ports to air-sea rescue teams, with the world’s lowest oil taxes topped up with tax breaks, and with grants for a myriad of manufacturing processes. In order for the oil rigs and Treasury rules to become ‘common sense’ a political infrastructure was necessary, the active support for North Sea oil came from every  corner of the House of Commons and the engine of Whitehall was put to work. Finally, there had to be the infrastructure of culture, a sense in the general population of the UK that ‘developing’ North Sea oil was a ‘good thing’ and that this resource would miraculously ‘save Britain from economic ruin’ in the 1970s. I have been searching for any evidence of British civil society opposition to exploiting the oil & gas in its opening decades, and until the 1980s there appears to have been none.


The intention of the fracking companies presently at work across England, such as Europa and Union Jack Oil in Surrey, Cuadrilla in Lancaster, UK Oil & Gas in Sussex or INEOS in South Yorkshire, is that these fields and woods, these villages and hills, should become ‘sites of speculation.’ All of these companies are interested only in one thing, making money. This is not about carbon this is about cash.

The PR departments of these companies spout the line that fracking will make the UK secure in energy, that the UK’s ‘energy security’ becomes evermore important with Brexit and the unreliability of Russia as a source of gas. They point to the ‘fracking revolution’ in the US, which has apparently reversed the inevitable decline in American oil & gas production and altered the geopolitical map of the world. Despite some national politicians mouthing this rhetoric, the idea that fracking could do what it has done in the US is blatant nonsense. About as nonsensical as the argument that gas from fracking will ‘help the UK address climate change.’

Fracking in the UK is not about ‘keeping the lights on’ or ‘saving the planet’, rather the bogeymen of ‘energy insecurity’ and the ‘environment’ are used by the oil companies to help create the political and financial conditions that make it possible to remake the UK onshore as a ‘site of speculation’.

But there is something different in the way that the UK North Sea was exploited in the 1960s and 1970s and the way the industry is trying the exploit onshore Britain in the 2000s and 2010s. Fifty years ago the charge into offshore drilling was led by massive corporations – BP, Shell, Esso (todays ExxonMobil), RTZ, Texaco and a few smaller US companies such as Amarada, Hamilton Oil and Occidental. Today the big companies are nowhere to be seen in the UK.

Famously Bob Dudley CEO of BP said in 2014, when asked why the company was not pursuing fracking in Britain, “We think we would attract the wrong kind of attention.” However he did promote the industry by saying “It does look like there is shale in the UK … It would seem right for the country to see whether there is shale gas.” Meanwhile BP gets ever deeper into fracking for both oil and gas around the world, in Argentina, in Oman, in Canada, in China and Russia, as the ‘Divest Fracking’ report elaborates.

It is important to remember that when BP finds it profitable to pursue fracking gas in Oman, or Shell does similarly in Argentina, this is not because those countries have booming markets in gas consumption, for the gas exploited in these lands is not largely for domestic use but for export. As the LNG ships that traverse the oceans bear testament, there is an international market for gas. In theory, gas fracked in the UK is the same as gas in Oman or Argentina, and it would be perfectly possible for it compete on the global market with these products.

Why is this not possible? Why does Bob Dudley say BP is not drilling because it would “attract the wrong kind of attention”? Of course he’s trying to avoid adverse publicity, but if BP really wanted to frack in the UK it would set about determinedly trying to do so, despite the bad press. Dudley doesn’t want BP to frack in Britain because the cost of production is still so much higher in the UK than elsewhere. And this is because of the opposition to fracking and the fact that the industry has failed to build the infrastructure of speculation – the physical, political, financial and cultural infrastructure. This is not the 1960s and 70s, the construction of the infrastructure is proving far harder, for resistance is strong.

As ‘Divest Fracking’ explains, in the UK public support for fracking is low, only 18% of the population say they do so. This stands in stark contrast to the public’s support for renewables which is strong at 85%. A Scottish Government consultation on fracking last year attracted more than 65,000 responses, of which 99% of respondents opposed fracking. The cultural infrastructure necessary for fracking to work is not being easily constructed in Britain.

The oil industry privately admits that carrying out a ‘fracking revolution’ in the UK equivalent to the US is likely to be impossible. This is not because the geology is unfavourable, but rather the human geography is challenging. As many say ‘this is a small and crowded country, this is not Texas or North Dakota’. Fracking in the US has depended upon the ability of drillers to rapidly move rigs and support facilities, but there is simply not the same network of roads nor the same vast blocks of single landholding in the UK. In tight country lanes and with a patchwork of myriad landowners, combined with lack of support in the wider culture, the fracking process can be constantly obstructed as the history of Leith Hill shows.

Political support is not unequivocally behind fracking. The UK government supports it and Whitehall machine assists it. (Although the decision by Gove and Defra could indicate a change of tack in some sections of the Tory Party?) However, the Scottish Government has instituted a moratorium, and similar halts are in place in Wales and Northern Ireland. The Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are largely opposed or at best ambivalent. If this is the case at the national level, then it is far more so at the local level. The battle over Leith Hill was powerfully assisted by Liberal Democrat local councillor Hazel Watson, for Dorking Hills ward of Surrey County Council.

The financial infrastructure of fracking is complex. Much of the money behind the likes of Europa, INEOS and Cuadrilla is from private equity funds who see fracking as a high-risk investment, in which there is a good chance that companies and projects will fold but the possibility of high returns if they succeed. However the security for private investors is decreased if institutional investors go cold on fracking. This is part of the importance of the campaign to make local authorities divest their pension funds from companies that conduct fracking.

This campaign took a major step forward with the release of the ‘Divest Fracking’ report and the powerful media response that covered it.[10] BP and Shell may not be fracking in the UK but if local authorities divest themselves of shares in these companies because of fracking, then it sends a powerful signal to the capital markets that the risk of investing in UK fracking grows higher as opposition grows. Divestment also undermines the political support for fracking.

As the report points out, Surrey County Council Pension Fund has £256,604,881 invested in fossil fuels and 4.29% of its portfolio is held in companies that frack. There is a strong campaign led by Divest Surrey[11] to push the council to divest its pension funds. The sustained pressure is making progress but there is further to go. However this is the council that oversees parts of the planning process for projects such as Europa’s Holmwood Oil Prospect. If the council divests this helps undermine the political support for oil exploration projects in the county.

Why then does the pressure to frack continue? Partly it is a manifestation of the fragmentation of the oil industry in the UK. The presence of the oil majors in the Britain’s industrial economy has been in rapid decline. BP and Shell have closed down or sold on all their petrochemicals plants, their refineries, their lubricants factories, all but a fraction of their petrol stations and most of their offshore fields.  Largely these oil corporations that have dominated swathes of British society for a century are ‘leaving Britain behind’. Despite this seismic shift they remain among the largest companies by capitalisation on the London Stock Exchange and so have a substantial presence in the UK’s finance sector.

In their wake come a myriad of small companies to run the offshore fields, the oil & gas terminals, the refineries, the road tanker fleets, the pipelines, the service stations and the fracking projects. Many of these small companies are privately owned, or not listed on the London Stock Exchange, or are registered for tax abroad. All of this despite having patriotic names like Union Jack Oil or UK Oil & Gas and using slogans on their website home pages such as ‘Energy for Britain’ or ‘Meeting the Energy Demands of the United Kingdom’. INEOS is a fine example, led by Jim Ratcliffe who has just shifted his base to Monaco, it is also  an ardent Brexit supporter.

These smaller companies are addicted to risk, for the private equity funds that finance them need high-risk high-return investments to add spice and appeal to their portfolios. While interest rates remain historically low, there’s plenty of private equity around the world that can be lured by the outside chance that money might be made from drilling in Surrey or Lancashire.

For the companies, this is not about carbon, it is about cash. So the fight against fracking is a fight against a model of finance – a model that fuels other ‘sites of speculation’ such as housing in London – which constantly seeks out places of risk. It does so cocooned from the world – insulated with its private income, its private education, its private healthcare, its houses and villas, its jet travel – wilfully ignoring the greater risk that speculating on fossil fuels poses to the Earth’s climate and the myriad of other species and peoples of the world.

Midas is blind.

But the resistance to Midas is strong, growing stronger.


(Many thanks to Heather Ackroyd & Dan Harvey, and Sakina Sheikh)








  1.’s Rise for Climate:
  2. Save Leith Hill:
  3. Friends of the Earth:
  4. Green Party:
  5. Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey:
  6. making it part of their ever provoking artwork.:
  7. Leith Hill Action Group:
  8. Voice for Leith Hill:
  9. ‘Divest Fracking – How UK councils are banking on dirty gas’:
  10. covered it.:
  11. Divest Surrey: