The death of Lords reform is an indictment of Westminster

Lords reform passed with a majority of 338, yet it will never see the light of day.

If the dramatic political events of yesterday tell us anything, it’s probably that we were barking up the wrong tree on Lords reform. We were thinking too small. We should have been chasing Westminster reform.

To everyone sitting in the Westminster bubble, I say this. In last month's Commons vote, Lords reform passed with a majority of 338, with support from all three of the main parties, yet it will not see the light of the day. What does that say to the wider public about how well, or rather badly, "the system" works? We can blame "game playing" by Labour (a charge we in the Lib Dems have now opened ourselves up to – we were all for equal constituencies not so long ago…) or weak leadership from a Prime Minster incapable of getting his backbenchers to support legislation fashioned (let’s not forget) by a non-partisan, cross-party group of Parliamentarians. But actually none of this, nor the subsequent game of he-said-she-said, does our politics any credit.

No, the electorate just sees a dysfunctional system that cannot deliver a reform promised for 100 years and writ large in everyone’s manifestos. Is it any wonder, then, that the public turns its back on political parties, who have seen their membership fall so dramatically, as a result? Is it a surprise that we get excited about a 65% turnout at a general election when, until as recently as 1992, turnouts of 75 or even 80% were the norm? Or that the most popular Conservative politician in the country isn’t even a member of Parliament?

Sure, most people in the country don’t have Lords reform at the top of their list of priorities right now. But that only makes the failure to achieve it even more bizarre – this isn’t some high profile vote loser or winner, yet our elected representatives have conspired and connived to make delivering it impossible in an orgy of game playing, petty politics and self-interest. A lot is being written about who the winners and losers from the affair are. But outside the bubble, the words piss up and brewery are the ones that first spring to mind.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Peers sit in the chamber of the House of Lords. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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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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