Not Bright's Blog III - Guido j'accuse!

Bright hands over his blog to Chicken Yoghurt who accuses fellow blogger Guido Fawkes of hypocrisy a

British political blogging saw an outburst of internecine strife in the last few weeks as two of blogging’s biggest names trained their artillery on each other.

Campaigning blogger, Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame, broke a fragile ceasefire by opening a front on the notorious Westminster gossip peddler Guido Fawkes. Tim’s beef with Guido is largely a charge of rank hypocrisy. For all his calling of politicians on sleaze, corruption and cover-ups, Guido isn’t prepared to practice what he preaches – refusing to give a right of reply in his blog’s comments and deleting those comments that shine a light on Fawkes’ less than straight dealing. That transparency, fair dealing and freedom of information are concepts that don't apply to him.

Guido has not been too far away from some big political headlines in the last year or so and is seen by some as one of Britain’s most powerful bloggers. He made a false start last January when he made a squalid attempt at claiming some credit in the outing of Mark Oaten. He then proceeded to pick over the bones of John Prescott’s sex life and running with unsubstantiated allegations about Gordon Brown’s connections with think tank, the Smith Institute.

You’re probably asking yourself, why is this important? Well, blogging is an emerging medium beginning to directly challenge the mainstream media, particularly in the area of expressing opinions that newspapers and television news can’t or won’t find room for. Tony Blair’s former senior policy adviser recently accused ‘hostile’ bloggers of creating a ‘shrill discourse‘. Press Complaints Commission director Tim Toulmin has called for a voluntary code of practice for bloggers. What Toulmin fails to realise is bloggers already have a code of practice. It’s called common decency and the vast majority of us abide by it. Ireland and his supporters don’t think that Guido Fawkes does and that is why we called him on it. And Guido being the most prominent blogger right now means the rest of us are painted with the same filthy brush.

Predictably maybe, the bloggers that backed either Tim or Guido were split along political lines. Ireland pursued the matter with a series of blog posts and a spoof ‘Guido 2.0’ blog which Guido has so far refused to address in any serious fashion. Indeed, Guido has been content for his side of the argument to be fought by his proxies and flacks on other blogs who decided shooting the messenger was the way to deal with the issues highlighted by Tim. He was variously described as a stalker, an obsessive, a bully and other epithets not suitable for a family magazine.

Self-styled blogging guru and Tory A-lister, Iain Dale, described Tim as a ‘nihilist’ on his 18 Doughty Street webTV show. Now, at this point it’s necessary for me to declare my interest (this is how it’s done Mr Dale). Tim Ireland is a personal friend of mine. That might make me biased, but taking a look at the various campaigns that Tim has run over the past few years in order to foster positive political engagement – building blogs for MPs, organising tactical voting campaigns and protesting against the Parliament Square protest ban – and ‘nihilist’ is the last word you would use to describe him.

He’s certainly far less nihilistic than Guido with his self-confessed urge to ‘slash and burn’ the political establishment. Tim’s driven, yes, tenacious also, but a stalker, an obsessive and a bully? Well, these words are always tossed about by those who’d rather not discuss potentially embarrassing matters. It’s easier to smear your opponent (or better still, get someone else to smear them for you) than debate with them. It’s understandable that Fawkes and Dale and their hangers-on would take the path of least resistance. It’s indicative of the mire that politics in general currently squats in.

There are many of us who are passionate about blogging, its potential and the longer term concerns about freedom of speech. We’re not happy about the medium’s growing reputation being dragged through the gutter. Why not join the battle? Blogging needs YOU!

Justin blogs at Chicken Yoghurt and is the editor of 'The Blog Digest 2007, 12 months of words from the web'.

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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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