Cameron steps up action against Warsi - but not Hunt

How much longer can the PM maintain this blatant double standard?

It has not been a good bank holiday weekend for Sayeeda Warsi. The charges against the Conservative Party chairman have escalated, and now David Cameron has referred the case to Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests. Allan will consider whether Warsi has broken the ministerial code.

The referral came after Warsi wrote to the Prime Minister admitting that she did not tell civil servants that she and her husband’s second cousin, Abid Hussain, were both shareholders in a spice manufacturing firm when they visited Pakistan together on government business. This is a serious blow, and could lead to a long investigation. Warsi already faces a Lords’ inquiry and a possible police inquiry into her expenses (my colleague George Eaton has a detailed outline of the accusations against Warsi here).

Warsi does not, at present, appear to have many supporters within her own party, although Louise Mensch told the Today programme this morning that the charges against her were “very minor”.

What is really very striking is the contrast to the treatment of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, who Cameron has repeatedly refused to refer over allegations that he broke the ministerial code three times while overseeing the defunct BSkyB bid. As the level of contact between Hunt and James Murdoch became apparent last week, Cameron remained steadfast, telling the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that what Hunt said privately or publicly about the bid was irrelevant:

How he gave himself, in the words of the Permanent Secretary, a ‘vanishingly small room to manoeuvre’ in terms of how he ran that bid process, and he ran it very well and I think reached the right conclusions.

It is mind-boggling that the Prime Minister has maintained this position. Indeed, even Hunt’s last manoeuvre to stay in the job – namely, blaming his special adviser Adam Smith for inappropriate levels of contact with News Corp – is a breach of the code, which states that ministers should be responsible for the conduct of their special advisers.

Although the thorough investigation of Warsi may be an attempt to deflect attention, and a reflection of the fact that there have separately been grumblings of discontent about her competence, this looks like plain and simple hypocrisy. The Labour MP Michael Dugher phrased it well:

David Cameron's actions in this case draw into sharp relief his refusal to hold a similar investigation into Jeremy Hunt … Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question.

How much longer can this be maintained?
 

Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi uses an iPad in the House of Lords. Photograph: Getty Images.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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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