Farewell Ken

Under Boris catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus and a no-strike deal with the RMT

So, the election in London is over, we’ve lost a great Mayor, gained an uncertain future and kept our two Green Assembly Members in the face of an almighty squeeze. After a week of catching up on sleep, meeting the babies my friends produced during the campaign and – importantly – reacquainting myself with the local pub, it’s time to reflect.

Although as predicted I am not Mayor, the Greens did remarkably well, all things considered. The thousands of new voters turning out to vote for either Boris or Ken rightly made all the other parties nervous about their vote shares. When we arrived at City Hall on Friday afternoon last week, we had to rely on staring at the relative sizes of the Labour and Tory Assembly votes that were being displayed on plasma screens (via the patented London Elects scale-free bar chart system, which seems to be specifically designed to make candidates nervous). As we tried to work out what each extra chunk on our electronic columns meant in the real world, it did at first look like we would be facing the same level of squeeze that the Scottish Greens saw last year, and which resulted in them losing five of their seven MSPs.

However, as the evening wore tensely on, it became clear that our vote had stood up to the challenge, and that we’d added as many voters as the turnout demanded to keep a virtually identical vote share on the Assembly list as in 2004. In the final count we ended up with exactly the same number of AMs as before, and my vote share in the Mayoral race went up slightly, with around 25,000 extra first preference bringing me in at fourth place (up three on last time). Full results from London Elects here.

Other parties did not fare so well. UKIP and One London were wiped off the Assembly completely, and the LibDems lost two of their five AMs when their Assembly vote went down nearly 7%. Mayor candidate Brian Paddick lost them nearly 5%, too, with an overall reduction in voter numbers for the LibDems of more than 50,000. Our campaign, while it felt a lot like running very hard to stand still, at least saved us from being squeezed like this and, if our extra votes turn out to be from people switching from other parties, rather than new voters coming in to bash Ken or stop Boris, it may mean we are set for a hefty percentage increase in the Euro elections next year.

What’s concerning me in the short term, however, is what our new Tory Mayor will do now. I can guarantee some things we won’t see. Catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus, a no-strike deal with the RMT, and rephasing traffic lights to solve congestion, are all likely to fold quicker than you can say ‘ethical foreign policy’, and I predict we will see them shelved as quietly as possible by the new team in City Hall over the next few months.

On the other hand, Johnson’s pledge to cancel the new £25 congestion charge for gas-guzzlers can be achieved all too easily. After a few days off, I’ll be getting together with my colleagues on the 4x4 campaign and with cycling groups (the money raised by the new C-Charge was earmarked to support new cycling facilities for the next decade, so it’s their concern too) to work out our next move. Watch this space…

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
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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