I had been looking forward to watching (and you can now on Parliament tv) the Envronmental Audit Committee evidence session for the Floods inquiry, in which George Monbiot was called, alongside Richard AE North, former Environmental Health Officer and now leading Eurosceptic blogger.
After a long delay caused by Cameron’s blather about what a fantastic deal he’d got from the EU, the session began. George gave his evidence in his usual articulate manner, peppered with anecdotes to bring the dry statistics to life. Even the notorious Peter Lilley failed to make any impression on George, and Lilley’s rather lame attempts to blame the EU for the floods were brushed aside as the fantasy they are. The only thing George got a bit mixed up on was in relation to how much water a river channel held, and why dredging did nothing (usually) to reduce flood problems.
Peter Aldhous was in the chair, as Huw Irranca-Davies had resigned to stand in the Welsh Assembly. George’s evidence had finished and I was waiting to hear what Richard AE North had to say, when Aldhous made an announcement – North had been barred from giving evidence, because of allegations that had been drawn to the attention of the Committee, that he had made offensive remarks online, and that “on balance” the committee had decided not to take evidence from him.
This is, in my experience, pretty unusual. What could North have said that was so offensive that the Committee felt it would be inappropriate to take evidence from him? Did they think he was going to start calling for Prince Charles’ head on a stick?
As I mentioned earlier this week, I have come across North myself before. I don’t think it would be too fanciful to suggest that North is the brain behind Chris Booker. Booker, the “journalist” you may remember who wrote a number of articles claiming that the Somerset Levels floods in 2013/14 were caused by EU policies, such as the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive. This is of course EU phobic lunacy but it fits well with North who sees himself as a leading campaigner for the UK to leave the EU. North is, I would suggest, a right-libertarian – which is bizarre for someone who made a career in the foood-regulation industry. Ok so far so mildly offensive. But surely select committees take evidence from libertarians all the time.
I had a quick look online to see if I could find to what the committee might have had its attention drawn and found this piece by George Monbiot from back in 2010. Yes, certainly plenty of offensive remarks here.
North was livid that he had been invited to give evidence then barred. He fulminated on his blog yesterday against the “loathsome creatures” of the select committee and took aim at its chair in particular. North was particularly offended that it was the select committee
“clerk who yesterday conveyed the news that Mr Irranca-Davies didn’t have the guts or courtesy to tell me to my face.”
Evidently North has not heard that Irranca-Davies is no longer the chair of the committee.
So he lashed out against an entirely innocent person accusing them of cowardice.
Afterwards, I asked him on twitter what “offensive remarks” he thought the committee referred to – and in reply, he blocked me. I think that says all it needs to about Dr North – this sort of behaviour is, I have found, fairly typical of those on the libertarian right.
As a leading player in the Brexit campaign, we can only hope that North falls out with everyone over the next 3 months and does the campaign real damage.