The curious tale of a 5G mast in Bath

There was a curious, and rather unlikely piece, in the Guardian on Boxing Day, courtesy of that well-known friend of Liberal Democrats, Nick Cohen, suggesting that Liberal Democrat councillors in Bath had opposed a new 5G phone mast for reasons linked to the theory that 5G was responsible for occurrences most politely described as conspiracy theories.

Naturally, proper research was not involved, nor did he actually speak to anyone linked to the decision to refuse planning permission.

It always puzzles me that so many people, including Liberal Democrats, claim to be sceptical about our media, yet seem willing to believe unreservedly anything negative written about us, and this increasingly looks like one of those instances, as Cllr Dine Romero, Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, noted on Twitter yesterday;

It’s probably too much to ask Mr Cohen for comment, but he merely reminds us that, if you want unbiased reporting, you’re better off reading the overseas press…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice. His daily newspaper of choice is the Washington Post

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46 Comments

  • nigel hunter 29th Dec '20 - 9:56am

    Correct. The overseas media see us as we are,NOT thru rose coloured glasses. Oh! , also not owned by the Rothermere’s, Berkley’s and Murdoch mob.
    I must admit we also need to blow our own positive trumpet loud and clearly and not denigrate ourselves.

  • I think the bigger issue is why Wera Hobhouse felt the need to cite “the threat to human health” in her representation to the planning committee- even if they (as they say) took no account of it.

    She can say she was just being cautious, and does not believe it herself but she must surely understand the way such things come across and the filip it gives to the crank conspiracy theorists out there. Would we, for example, be accepting of her encouraging a pause in vaccine rollout until long-term health impact studies have been completed? Just being precautionary, after all…

  • nigel hunter 29th Dec '20 - 9:58am

    Add a proviso. The Aussies have a campaign on the go to kick the Murdoch media out of Australia.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Dec '20 - 10:05am

    I must admit I’m sceptical about the 5G masts. Perhaps, the subject of electricity pylons, makes me feel a little unsure as to their safety.
    I took some medication several years ago, for a sight issue. One of the side effects was simply joints. As, I became unwell the subject arose why? I was told you should always read side effects.
    So for me, I like to know any possible downs. It’s easy to be wise after the event.
    I wouldn’t say foreign press is more honest. At present, I am involved with an American Disabled Charity. Canada is another on my list. As I have family in Spain, el paid is another.

  • We still have the problem that Lib Dem councillors and an MP have repeated conspiracy theories in a public meeting (even if the decision is on valid grounds). There’s even been a Labour councillor here in Lambeth tweeting this (ironically one called Ed Davie!)… we can’t challenge back because it seems we can’t refute the basic premise and the technicality of the decision doesn’t cover it.

  • @ Mark Valladares Are you saying the BBC was wrong to report, “But Bath’s Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse was among those calling on the council to listen to concerns about health”, Mark ?

    A rebuttal statement from Ms Hobhouse would help to clarify the issue. I’m not aware of one.

    Meanwhile Party’s profile and campaign stance seems to have gone into permanent hibernation since December, 2019. I’m looking for a major effort from the Party Leader tomorrow to dispel this lacklustre impression.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Dec '20 - 10:56am

    If I had listened to my inner voice, on the subject of problems I was having with a certain medication. Would I have ended up in Power Wheelchair? We trust, and that is not always the answer.
    I remember an article I wrote many years ago, on the subject of Child Trafficking. It was little known about, it’s known about now.
    Social Housing and disabled people is another, bus spaces, the list goes on.
    If anyone makes a comment that is viewed different, negative views appear.
    I believe you have to tell things as they are.
    Newspapers, don’t always do this, and most certainly we can include media.

  • John Marriott 29th Dec '20 - 11:01am

    To be perfectly honest, I tend to be one of those people who wonder just what damage could be done by putting a device that emits microwaves to you ear over the long term. However, it would seem that most people appear to use their cellphones to text and surf the net rather than to speak these days. I just wish that some people, noticeably my own family, could now and again put their phones away and actually join in the conversation!

    However, you cannot un invent such devices so we shall have to learn to live with them. Ms Hobhouse won’t be the last well meaning individual to put her foot in it. Of course, she would be a Lib Dem, wouldn’t she?

  • Nick Cohen is a scratch your eyes out socialist. One of the reasons that we have never had a forward looking left of centre coalition sad to say.

  • The B&NES Planning Committee meeting is available on YouTube, this link will take you directly to the objections from the two local Lib Dem councillors and you can hear the grounds for their objections rather than relying on media or other reports https://youtu.be/sZYpKshknso?t=12354

    Without giving too much of a spoiler alert, their objection comments exclusively questioned safety of 5G and no other grounds. The council officers however explained that if the committee wanted to reject the application they would need to find some other grounds than health grounds.

  • The media increasingly tells us what it they want us to believe rather than the unvarnished facts. Some of this is deliberate, but I suspect much of it is unconscious. Editorial staff, like everyone else, are influenced by social media, the creation of mindset and trending fashionable beliefs. At the same time, cost pressures have reduced the amount of objective, investigative journalism in favour of uncritical cut and paste publishing.

    But cost reduction is not the cause, as demonstrated by the BBC. The Corporation is obsessed about diversity in everything except mindset.

  • And have the BBC gotten this all wrong too, alongside the local newspaper?

    https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55399513

    If the BBC is to be trusted (I submit we ought to!):

    “The mobile companies EE and Three wanted to upgrade their 15m mast at a sports ground on the fringes of Bath, adding 5G equipment and making it about 5m taller.”

    A laughable decision.

  • John Marriott 29th Dec '20 - 12:04pm

    @Daniel Carr
    “And have the BBC GOTTEN this all wrong too…?” No, YOU have GOT it wrong! Unless, of course, you are an American. Over here the past participle of the verb ‘to get’ is still ‘got’. Perhaps you are spending too much time on your mobile phone – or should that be cellphone?

  • Peter Chambers 29th Dec '20 - 12:14pm

    We should indeed blow our own trumpet. None of the click-powered media is going to do us a favour.

    As regards 5G, the main danger so far seems to be from a minority of violent protestors offering violence to technicians. The subject of RF safety is more complex to discuss – later – but in the short term note that “frequency range 1” is the same frequency range used by the LTE that we already have. While the industry only has “frequency range 1” we have lots of empirical historical evidence that it did not cause Covid, does not re-write your DNA, and does not enable Bill Gate to micro-chip you. 5G does cause the gullible to turn to arson.

    The interesting topic of “frequency range 2”, or mmWave, is a topic for another day.
    This is something for the appropriate committees to get to grips with.

  • Peter Watson 29th Dec '20 - 12:17pm

    A few days ago I’m sure I posted a link to the same Guardian article at the end of this LDV thread in which the author wrote “Our current platform champions the roll-out of technologies like gigabit broadband and 5G”: https://www.libdemvoice.org/our-party-must-do-more-to-tackle-the-digital-divide-66129.html and I added “except perhaps in Bath”, but for some reason that post is not there.
    It’s not just the left that are using this to criticise Lib Dems: Guido Fawkes already reported on the story: https://order-order.com/2020/12/23/wera-hobhouse-bolsters-5g-conspiracy/
    The party does need to do more to counter the impression that grand statements on a national stage can often appear to be contradicted by nimbyism on a local one.

  • The government is determined to implement its 5G roll out. It also has responsibility for public health. I suspect that there is no conclusive damning evidence in the public domain otherwise there would be an outcry. I remember when there were similar concerns about radiation from televisions, wi-fi routers and the like.

    We know that many parts of the electromagnetic spectrum do damage health but others do not seem to, so some concern and caution is understandable. We know that vested interest groups on both sides are free to commission scientific research to produce the evidence they want. At the end of the day we have to rely on government commissioned research and the accumulation of evidence (whether positive or negative) over many years. Usually, the checks and balances are about right.

  • Peter Watson 29th Dec '20 - 12:25pm

    @martin “I wonder if this quotation is from something entirely unrelated to 5g phone masts.”
    Back in November, Wera Hobhouse was quoted as stating “I have received a huge amount of correspondence from residents who are concerned about the roll out of 5G in Bath. I have spent time looking into the arguments myself and weighing up the available evidence. All the official guidance states that 5G is safe. Yet given the widespread concern, I believe it may be worth applying a precautionary principle on where masts are located whilst further studies are being undertaken.” (https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/local-news/plans-new-5g-mast-village-4722219)

  • Obviously Nick Cohen is simply using this story to attack Labours “Enemies” ( as he sees us) but that does not make the Story itself nonsense.
    It does look as though the decision to reject the Application was taken on grounds of Not annoying a noisy group of Residents with the Defence of Natural Beauty added on as a figleaf. That is what the evidence suggests ( see Mark Inskips comment above) & as Libdems We follow the Evidence dont We ?
    The Worst aspect of this to me is the argument being advanced that Politicians have The Duty to pass on the views of their Constituents whether they agree with them or not. If that rule applies to unfounded fears about “New” Technology then why not unfounded Fears about Immigrants or the Trans Community ?

  • Peter Watson 29th Dec '20 - 12:38pm

    Following a few more links, it was also reported in July 2019 that Wera Hobhouse attended a “Stop 5G – Bath” meeting (https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/local-news/doctor-speaks-out-against-unsafe-3085583).
    Elsewhere it’s also suggested that Tory councillors have flip-flopped on this issue. It all sounds less like high principles and more like lowcal politics (appalling pun intentional! 😉 )

  • Peter Watson 29th Dec '20 - 12:43pm

    @Paul Barker “If that rule applies to unfounded fears about “New” Technology then why not unfounded Fears about Immigrants or the Trans Community ?”
    An excellent point, but fortunately such fears are less likely to be voiced by middle-class home-owning potential Lib Dem voters, so the party is probably safe! [Insert sadly ironic smiley face here]

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Dec '20 - 1:53pm

    Oh for goodness sake! Why is our party full of people who want to believe the worst of it? Having read Mark’s article I thought there would be a lot of comments along the lines of – so Nick Cohen’s article was inaccurate, that’s a relief, so let’s move on.
    Instead of most commentators wanting an explanation from Nick Cohen, people are hanging on to their previous gripes about our Bath Councillors and Wera our MP. If the Bath party are demoralised and the rest of the party fails to rally to their support in spite of this new evidence, then Nick Cohen will have achieved his objective.
    The reality of national politics at the moment is that Labour cannot win against the Tories on its own. However, the Lib Dems are in second place to the Tories in around 80 seats. Instead of working with us, people like Nick Cohen would rather see us killed off as a party in the mistaken belief that Labour could win those seats.
    I think all Lib Dem party members ( and I include myself in this) should make a Resolution this New Year, to praise others in the party for excellent work and to take a deep breath before leaping to criticise actions we don’t agree with. To try and find out what exactly is happening on the ground before taking a public view. To try to believe members of the party before those who are its enemies. We are in danger of disappearing down a deep hole we have dug for ourselves so please let’s throw away our spades and stop digging.

  • Barry Lofty 29th Dec '20 - 2:30pm

    Sue Sutherland @ Well said!!

  • The dominance of the right wing press here is a serious concern and was a major cause of Brexit. Their constant stream of anti-EU propaganda, ruthlessly coordinated, continues unabated, and was strengthened by the 2016 result. It would be great if the Washington Post could produce and market a London edition, likewise if the New European could issue a daily version, meantime we should also support initiatives like the Byline Times.

  • Gwyneth Deakins 29th Dec '20 - 2:37pm

    For as long as I can remember (which is quite a long time) our party has been rubbish at quickly refuting wrong and negative stories about us, and full of people in the party who immediately believe those negative stories and rush to condemn without exercising even a minimal degree of scepticism or common sense. A lot of those people believe everything they read in The Grauniad FFS. My wish for 2021 is that the party develops even a faintly effective rebuttal function and that the credulous moaners get a grip and check the facts before they moan. More chance of COVID 19 dying out by April I think.

  • Stephen Howse 29th Dec '20 - 2:38pm

    Sorry, but there are direct quotes knocking about from the local Lib Dem MP and from Lib Dem cabinet members on the council which give credence to a conspiracy theory. They are there in black and white for anyone who wishes to read them.

    The duty of a Liberal Democrat elected representative is to defend and promote liberal values and liberalism in action. There is *literally* no point in a liberal party which doesn’t do this.

    I’m not sure how going along with a conspiracy theory, rather than challenging it, is in any way compatible with liberalism and it does nobody in the party any good to hide the problem. We are not a glorified residents’ association which is there simply to go along with whatever we think will garner us votes, however evidently anti science and anti rationality it might be. Or at least, we shouldn’t be. We are the political inheritors of the Enlightenment, time to act like it.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Dec '20 - 3:49pm

    John Marriott: “Over here the past participle of the verb ‘to get’ is still ‘got’.” [emphasis added]
    Actually the US “gotten” is the original past particple of “get”; hence “forget”, originally a compound word from “get” and therefore originally following the same paradigm, has past participle “forgotten”.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Dec '20 - 5:19pm

    Personally I must say that I have not thought of Nick Cohen as a hostile commentator, having found many of his Observer pieces well worth attention and consideration.

  • I never read the Guardian or its sister paper so I cannot comment on the quality of Mr Cohen’s opinions. However, I would say that Members of Parliament have to be very careful when intervening on matters that are the subject of conspiracy theories.

  • I love it when we go full on NIMBY/conspiracy nut.

  • Peter Watson 29th Dec '20 - 7:26pm

    It is interesting that there is so much anguish about Nick Cohen commenting on this and no mention of “Guido Fawkes” (Paul Staines?) who had previously reported on the story with much more venom, even offering an image of Wera Hobhouse in a tin-foil hat. Despite comments dismissive of Cohen and The Guardian, Lib Dems seem much more sensitive to criticism from that quarter.
    The letter reproduced in the article seems to relate to a particular local news article rather than Cohen’s opinion piece in The Guardian, and does not really contradict the impression highlighted by Cohen (and Fawkes) that local Lib Dems did indeed appear to align themselves with anti-5G campaigners’ health concerns, even if those were not the reason recorded for rejecting the planning application. Indeed, it was reported back in November that “after being given reassurances from officers on the health impacts – and told not to set different safeguards to the international commission guidelines – planning committee members focused on the visual impact of the mast.”
    Surely all it would take to clarify their position is for Wera Hobhouse and Lib Dem councillors to confirm that they are not at all “concerned about the threat to human health, to tree health and to wildlife and biodiversity” and that they would be perfectly happy for the 5G mast to be located in a less attractive location (or even the same location if it could be made 5m shorter).

  • Very much agree with Katharine Pindar.

    It’s sad to see a party I joined (or rather its predecessor) almost sixty years ago, worked for, wore out many pairs of shoes for, all because it was then a radical compassionate idealistic force for good led by a charismatic Leader getting itself in a self induced mess and then complaining because it gets held to account by a radical journalist.

    The party is where it is today because of what it did and the electorate aren’t as gullible as it thinks.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Dec '20 - 8:51pm

    We are all entitled to an opinion.
    There is the on going problems with getting medical treatment, for anything other than Covid. It seems Jeremy Hunt is trying to get a tax on the over 40’s. Despite there being no treatment or very little.
    I know some parents were concerned by the closeness of one 5G mast to a school.
    Many years ago, asbestos and lead water pipes were common, my grandfather had pneumoconiosis after many years underground.
    I would have thought Cohen could find other failings, within the total mess we have at present. Time will tell.
    How long can this situation exist?

  • Mark Inskip 29th Dec '20 - 8:53pm

    I must admit to being surprised that despite my post at 11:07am this morning,
    so many commenting continue to attack Nick Cohen, the Guardian, the Observer and the media in general.

    The media of course are often guilt of misreporting and most commentators have their particular agendas and narratives they chose to push, but we should always consider the evidence available to us before jumping to conclusions and deciding who to attack or blame.

    To recap, the B&NES Planning Committee meeting where the comments by Lib Dem councillors were made is available on YouTube. The link to take you directly to the objections from the two local Lib Dem councillors is here https://youtu.be/sZYpKshknso?t=12354

    The objection comments from both councillors exclusively questioned safety of 5G and raised no other grounds for objecting to the application. The council officers however explained that if the committee wanted to reject the application they would need to find some other grounds than health grounds because the applicant had fully compiled with International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines.

    Given this evidence it is difficult therefore to see how the article by Nick Cohen or the reporting by others such as the BBC can be so harshly criticised.

    What we should be asserting is that the vast majority of Liberal Democrats believe in scientific and evidence based approaches, and that we abhor the repetition of anti-5G arguments based on conspiracy theories.

  • Laurence Cox 29th Dec '20 - 9:47pm

    John Marriott makes a good point when he says:

    “To be perfectly honest, I tend to be one of those people who wonder just what damage could be done by putting a device that emits microwaves to your ear over the long term.”

    There is some work reported a couple of years ago on cancers in male rats exposed to microwaves with the frequency and modulation typical of mobile phones:

    https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/high-exposure-radio-frequency-radiation-associated-cancer-male-rats

    but as John suspects the average mobile phone user is probably more in danger from the handset next to his ear, rather than the base station a mile or two away. This study took 10 years to complete, so we cannot expect quick answers; it also applies to 2G/3G frequencies rather than 5G.

  • This Nick Cohen 5G article proves how we’ve barely any media presence initiated by ourselves, as David Raw points out. said. And so our enemies paint their narrative about us. Nick Cohen is a political flat earther by clinging to his belief that the invasion of Iraq was right (Yes, hugely ironic considering his 5G article) and has thereafter marked the LibDems, as well as any Labour parts in stop the War coalition like Corbynistas as his forever foes to discredit by any angle, however tenuous. He tells himself this is justified with his closing sentence in his typically overlaboured, clancking, rant.
    Mack Pack commented in an excellent analysis with Tim Bale https://www.markpack.org.uk/166517/podcast-how-are-labour-and-the-liberal-democrats-doing/ on how our party does so much better in the media when it has a half decent Press officer for the leader & parliamentary party, and bombs when it doesn’t.

  • It’s a stupid decision whether it’s for nonsense “health” reasons or “inappropriate development in the green belt”. Why should important infrastructure development be blocked for any reason? It’s not very progressive and it’s one tower, not a 6 lane highway.

  • Christine Headley 30th Dec '20 - 1:09am

    Whatever the towers look like, people want a signal in the AONB and complain very loudly if none is available.

  • Mark Inskip has provided the evidence. The Observer Cohen article was legitimate journalism. Lib Dem Councillors are entitled to their views and to express them in public. Sadly they have embarrassed me and, I suspect, many others

  • Roman Znajek 30th Dec '20 - 11:16am

    I came here hoping to find a refutation of Cohen’s article.

    Unfortunately, it looks as if he was spot-on

    I am embarrassed and angry.

  • Denis Loretto 30th Dec '20 - 1:09pm

    I don’t know if Wera Hobhouse follows LDV but if she does I think it would be a very good thing if she was to make an explanatory contribution. I have no axe to grind on this matter whatsoever but reading some of the posts in this thread make me somewhat uncomfortable.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Dec '20 - 2:03pm

    The notion of Nick Cohen as tribal Labour and socialist is nonsense.

    He is a fair though caustic voice of centre ground and centre left mainstream progressive and open minded ideas.

    He went for Blair as much as Corbyn, particularly.

    he it seems is very against the particular conspiracy theory types.

    We ought to be against them. But that does not mean we ought to avoid concerns or not ask questions.

    This issue goes beyond Bath vs media…

  • David Allen 30th Dec '20 - 7:46pm

    The goal was wide open. All Nick Cohen needed to do was kick the ball. He did. Moral, don’t gift your opponents open goals.

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