Far from quiet on the politics front...

A potential police strike, a tricky climate deal and a contentious EU treaty - it's been a busy week

A relatively quiet week for the government, in the context of the past couple of months: only threatened police strikes, a contentious EU treaty and a tricky international climate change deal to negotiate.

Jacqui Smith’s decision not to backdate a 2.5% pay rise for police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, prompted Lenin’s Tomb to write: "While public sector workers are ‘valued’ in a sentimental fashion, the general implication is that union leaders should shut their mouths and accept a period of belt-tightening in order to keep Brown's ‘Miracle Gro’ economy afloat."

Less sympathy can be found at A Tangle Web: "I say the police should damn the law and strike. It’s not as if we’ll miss them if they withold their labour. We learn today that they are on the beat for one hour in seven - as much as that, eh? Ministers often make the claim that there are more police officers than ever before and they speak the truth. There are more officers than at any other time, yet the police has never been less visible to Britons."

This hyperbole is perhaps explained when the post later reveals: "Yesterday a turd in a police uniform stepped from behind a bush and recorded me driving at 38mph whilst leaving a 30mph zone on my way out of a small rural town."

Daniel Finkelstein queries Brown’s defence that the decision was made to keep inflation low: "The deal isn’t big enough to cause inflation by forcing the government to borrow. So he can only mean that a large amount being paid to police would encourage other large pay increases. Fair enough. Except that the headline amount, the permanent part of the increase, is the one that will drive other wage claims and any increases based on comparability. If inflation was the issue it would have been better, surely, to have offered a smaller headline figure and then backdated it. So it seems more likely that public."

With Eurosceptics among the most conspicuous in the blogosphere, the signing of the Lisbon Treaty did not go unnoticed. For The Huntsman, it was "surely one of the most dishonourable and dishonest acts by a British Prime Minister since the early hours of 30th September 1938 when Chamberlain effectively signed away Czechoslovak independence to Germany".

While, Cranmer writes: “Nations tend to get the leaders of which they are worthy, and there is little doubt that the people of the United Kingdom deserve this - for their apathy, ignorance, and indifference. The reality is that so few care because so few understand, and so few understand because they are more absorbed by Big Brother, X Factor, Come Dancing and the National Lottery, than they are by matters spiritual and political."

As environmental concerns took centre stage in Bali, despite the US and Canada holding out on agreeing to emission cuts, John Redwood manages to lay the blame at the EU's feet: "The EU should grow up, and learn that if the world is to reduce its carbon output it requires goodwill and understanding on all sides, not a combination of bullying and vain posturing. We will not cure the world’s CO2 problem unless India and China, Japan and Russia are involved as well as the USA."

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496