Life after Ken

Terrible results are capped off by Boris Johnson taking the mayoralty of London and with just a coup

It's probably not going to be a John F Kennedy 'remember where you were?' moment but the day Boris Johnson ousted Ken Livingstone and became the first Tory mayor of London is extremely significant.

David Cameron's Conservatives now have something high profile to run. They've got a fair amount of time on their hands so they can concentrate a lot of effort - and people - on the job.

Boris will be the front man and provided he doesn't fall flat on his face, like Labour ministers no doubt hope, the Tories will have something recent to point to so they can say 'look we're no longer the Conservative Party that John Major led and yes we can do government'.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told me on Friday lunchtime - when the result was a very long way from being declared - that she thought the Tories were set to take the mayoralty. She observed that finally they would be tested in running something - presumably because she assumes they will mess things up. But what if they don't?

Labour was prepared for a pretty dire outcome from the 1 May 2008 elections - though not as dire as it turned out. If you were listening to the coverage of the elections in past 48 hours, virtually every commentator said that we would now see a raft of policy initiatives from ministers. Smith said in our phone conversation that she herself would be making an announcement next week. They say they are also going to be listening and learning...

The question on my mind today, though, is what will the Blairites be doing this weekend and in the coming days? Charles Clarke has already chucked a couple of bricks over the parapet at the Brownites but will we hear from Milburn, Byers and the like and, if so, will they take advantage of choppy waters and rock the boat?

Last night I was in the BBC London studios to sound off on the Tessa Dunlop radio show - well, it's cheaper than therapy. As the results came it was incredibly disappointing - and not just because Ken Livingstone lost. It's because the Tories now feel dangerous again and I can't forget what it was like the last time.

Communities abandoned, appalling economic mismanagement, kids educated in portacabins, teachers and nurses paid a pittance. And all the while, tax cuts for the wealthy. Other people seem to have shorter memories.

Personally I hope Gordon Brown is ready for a long, hard two-year fight because the electorate clearly needs to see, in the words of Rhodri Morgan, some clear red water between the prime minister and the PR men that front now the Tory Party.

No more of this big tent stuff - remember "best when we're Labour"?...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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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.

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