Radio 4 spurns Mandelson and Blair

The coveted Book of the Week slot will go to the former Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin instead.

Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, authors of the two big political memoirs of the year, have been spurned by Radio 4 in favour of the long-serving Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin. Mullin served in various junior positions in the Blair government before being sacked as Africa minister by the man himself after the 2005 election.

The second volume of Mullin's diary, which will chart the period from his departure from the front benches to his standing down as an MP at this year's general election, is to be released at the end of August. Decline and Fall: Diaries (2005-2010), it has now been revealed by the Guardian, will be serialised by Radio 4 in its Book of the Week slot in late August, despite rumours that Mandelson's The Third Man or Blair's memoir, The Journey (due out in early September), were more likely choices.

A spokesman for Radio 4 said:

We do not have any current plans to broadcast publications by either Peter Mandelson or Tony Blair as books of the week on Radio 4. We can confirm that we plan to broadcast Chris Mullin's Decline and Fall: Diaries (2005-2010) towards the end of August.

The Book of the Week slot, in addition to the prestige associated with it, often has a powerful effect on sales, with less well-known books such as Charlie Connelly's Attention All Shipping achieving unlikely bestseller status because of the publicity radio serialisation provides. But, given the success of his first memoir, A View from the Foothills, Mullin's book is hardly likely to struggle.

Perhaps the clue to why Mullin has been preferred over Blair and Mandelson is to be found in their different subjects. Mandelson's book (as has been well documented in recent weeks) focuses on the frequently tense machinations at the heart of New Labour, while Blair's effort has been rumoured to eschew domestic matters in favour of more detail of his work on the international stage (with an eye to sales in the United States).

And what can we expect from Mullin? He was on the periphery of the period dominated by Blair and Mandelson, to be sure. A former journalist whose investigation into the Birmingham Six for Granada's World in Action and subsequent book on the subject contributed to the case being reconsidered, Mullin has always had strong beliefs. But, reviewing the first memoir, Michael White commented that "Mullin's tone is mild, ironical, even world-weary" and that the book provided "a very attractive worm's-eye view".

Perhaps this is the difference. The account in Mandelson's memoir was widely felt to come through the "distorting prism of ego", to borrow a phrase from the BBC's James Lansdale. And I think we all confidently expect that the man who charged £200,000 for a single speech will place himself at the centre of his forthcoming book.

Perhaps the BBC is not so much seeking to snub Mandelson and Blair as select a memoir that presents a broader and less individualistic account of our recent political history. After all, as White put it:

Mullin realises his own weakness: he's incapable of hating anyone for more than half an hour.

I think I know which I'd rather hear on the radio every day for a week.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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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