A tribute to Keith Taylor

We’re so grateful to the former Green MEP Keith Taylor, who died in Brighton on 1 November 2022. Keith was a pillar of support to the Weald Action Group and the community campaigns against oil and gas around the South East.

Keith’s patch was the whole of the South East and he had many interests – most notably animal rights – and many responsibilities during his time as a MEP. But campaigners from the Weald Action Group knew him best out on the front line defending our right to protest against fossil fuel exploration and directly supporting campaigners. The fight against oil and gas companies and Government Ministers who seem set on supporting their interests against those of the environment and local people can be overwhelming. Keith’s cheerfulness and pragmatic approach, plus creative campaigning ideas, got us through.

Keith stood alongside Green Party leaders and Caroline Lucas MP and was a regular visitor to communities threatened with fossil fuel exploitation – from coalbed methane in Kent to oil and gas across Surrey and Sussex. 

When Cuadrilla targeted Balcombe, Keith organised and attended numerous events to support campaigners and educate local people and the regulatory authorities. His presence in Balcombe very early on drew a big local crowd and legitimised their/our concerns, it really helped kick start the campaign. He hosted meetings with the Parish Council and Environment Agency. In 2013 he brought a Polish farmer who was resisting fracking in his community, and the Polish film director Lech Kowalski, for a tour of theatres and communities across the South East screening the film Drill Baby Drill. His constant support was a great source of encouragement to campaigners who were used to being ignored or worse by anyone in the establishment. Many of those in Balcombe took to heart his message: history shows that the ability of a community to hold off oil and gas companies is entirely defined by the ability of the community itself to hold together in its opposition. We feel proud that Balcombe has through all the years managed to hold off oil and gas – in no small part because it followed Keith’s advice.

Keith was unfazed by burly security guards or threats of legal action including an injunction which aimed (among other things) to stop him publicising protest actions.  He even provided evidence to the High Court on how that restraint on his activities as an MEP was in breach of the law.

There’s no doubt that he helped us win the Battle for Leith Hill. He stood shoulder to shoulder with locals and camp protectors on many occasions. He came up with the idea of an “empty chair” meeting with the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission when he failed to reply to our invitation to a meeting to discuss the lease given to an oil company. And he enjoyed with glee the photo it provided.  It was soon after this that the then Environment Secretary Michael Gove backed down on the issue of the lease and oil company Europa withdrew.  Keith published a report when the campaign won so that the lessons from it could be shared more widely.

In 2014 Keith visited Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania, USA, where fracking for shale gas has been developed on a commercial scale. At talks across the region he described what he’d seen: drilling and methane flaring taking place a stone’s throw from people’s houses, roads clogged with heavy trucks, and many houses no longer with usable water supplies. If shale gas and oil drilling were developed here on the same scale as in Susquehanna County, it would mean 2,485 wells in Sussex alone.

He tabled questions in the European Parliament on the definition of fracking – trying to get clarity on other processes like acidisation which amount to fracking but don’t fall within the legal definition.

One of his last major undertakings as an MEP was to publish a report “Far From Gold Standard” on the failings and omissions by the fossil fuel industry and its regulators which have led to so much public concern about how they operate. 

Keith was a campaigner through and through, as well as a politician. He had a wicked sense of humour and was a kind and supportive friend to all of us. We missed him when his time as a MEP came to an end with Brexit and we mourn his loss now. Sending love and best wishes to his family and close friends. 

You can still find his reports on his legacy website: https://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/ and his ‘goodbye’ video from when he retired as an MEP here: https://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/news/keith-taylor-says-goodbye