Lib Dem MPs must behave before the grassroots will

If the party's MPs want the leadership debate to go away, then they should stop talking about it.

Well, I’m in trouble. Me and the other 40,000 activists in the Lib Dems. As has been well documented, there has been more than a touch of debate about the party leadership ahead of conference (we’re at 10% in the polls - of course there has!) and the word on the street is that , generally speaking, this isn’t going down well with the Westminster crowd. Apparently the received wisdom is that if we don’t show a united front in Brighton, there’s a chance the world may spot that the membership isn’t entirely comfortable with the way things have been going to date. You reckon?

Well apart from the fact that it just wouldn’t be Lib Dem conference if there wasn’t a barney about something or other (in the last three conferences it’s been around the NHS, the NHS and the NHS), there’s a touch of physician heal thyself about all this.

It all started with Vince saying "I don't give any time to these personal criticisms of Nick Clegg which are being made at the moment", which is, by all accounts, code for declaring war on the leadership. Plenty of others in Westminster have been just as guilty. Adrian Sanders, for example, declared that Clegg must stop "bumbling along worrying about the future".

But it’s not all one-way traffic is it? I notice the term "the continuity SDP" has been slipped causally into the press to describe anyone who thinks the party may have just edged slightly to the wrong side of the centre ground. Then we had Ming declaring of the Cable-Miliband texts: "The truth is that the success of this coalition depends upon everyone who participates in it being a full subscriber, and we were using the expression pick and mix a little while ago. I don’t think it helps a partnership to suggest that you may already be looking for another partner."

Finally, Malcolm Bruce weighed in this weekend, declaring (in a fairly obviously targeted message) that we shouldn’t be laying the ground work for a coalition with Labour. Well, we should actually. And we should be laying the groundwork for another coalition with the Tories. And if the arithmetic works out in 2015, we need to be prepared. We were last time. So were the Tories. Labour, put simply, wasn’t, and, in any case, the electoral arithmetic didn’t stack up. Next time, (if there is a next time) we should take longer about the process– and all the major parties should be ready to negotiate whatever deal the will of the electorate throws up. (Plenty of readers have rushed to the comments section to shout "you see, you’ll deal with anyone who keeps you in power". No we won’t. We’ll talk to anyone the British people tell us too. Doesn’t mean we’ll do a deal).

But more to the point, the folk in Westminster can’t tell the grassroots to show a united front and then bicker amongst themselves through the pages of the press. If they really want the leadership debate to go away, then they should stop talking about it – no matter who you think is parking tanks on whoever’s lawn. But as long as they’re slipping quotes to the press, I don’t see why the rest of us shouldn’t stick our oar in.

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

He's behind you, Nick. 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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