I may not actually win...

Sian urges London's voters to send out a strong message over green issues by voting for her first, L

Okay, I’m going to be painfully honest and admit I have a very slim chance of becoming Mayor of London after the ballots are counted on 2 May. I’m being asked why I’m standing a lot at the moment, and the truth is it’s not because I think I’m actually going to be Mayor.

But, I do believe in giving voters a full choice of candidates in every election, and I know that many voters will want to send a strong message about wanting more progress on green and social justice issues, and that’s what a Green first vote is all about. Then, as I have blogged before, I am recommending people cast their final round votes for Ken Livingstone to save London from the horror of becoming Boris Johnson’s playpen for the next four years.

This is what I’m calling their ‘insurance’ vote, and I also have an insurance policy of my own in this election. I am fourth on our London Assembly londonwide list, and so I do have a realistic chance of becoming an Assembly Member after election day.

Provided we run a decent campaign (which of course I’m largely responsible for making sure of, working in the high-profile mayoral candidate role), I think we should be able to win the confidence of the same proportion of London voters as in the last council elections in 2006. This was 13.5%, and would just about be enough to put me in via the fiendishly complicated D’Hondt counting system used to assign the list seats.

The only problem – and it’s not a small one - is the pitifully tiny amount of attention actually given to the Assembly elections by the ‘Boris and Ken show’ obsessed press. Hardly anyone is aware we have a progressive, almost-fair, PR-based system for the Assembly election, or that they can vote for who they like and be sure their vote will count towards winning AMs for their chosen party. Hopefully this will improve though, as the campaign goes on, and of course I’m doing my little bit by posting this here.

It’s a double shame for us in the Greens that the Assembly is so invisible in this election, because our current two AMs, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, have made far and away the best job of being on the Assembly over the past four years. I have honestly never known two more hardworking, morally upright and astute politicians.

Unlike the part-timers from the other parties, they have worked tirelessly to make London better; and not just on green issues either. Some people are aware that Livingstone’s increased investment in cycling and home energy-efficiency is down to their casting vote over his budget each year. But how many know that they were also responsible for the creation of the Living Wage Unit, which calculates what a Londoner really needs to earn to pay for the basic essentials and enables campaigners such as London Citizens to go out and shame big employers like Citigroup into paying their cleaners decently?

The scale of their achievements came home to me the other day, when I was putting together this webpage, listing what they have got done. Yes, as they (probably) say, ‘you can take the woman out of the web manager job, but you can’t completely take the web manager out of the woman’, so fiddling with the London Green Party website is still my spare time hobby. The amount of material was so large I ended up putting it over four pages in the end, and it still needed a list of id-tagged contents at the top of each page.

So, while a Tory monopoly will still leave us with lots to do, my two hopes for this election are that, first, we retain a Mayor over which the Greens have an influence and, second, that I can be working alongside them in City Hall making it all happen.

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Getty
Show Hide image

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.