Will Obama and Cameron save Gary McKinnon?

Mother of hacker facing extradition threat is hopeful -- exclusive interview and photo.

Amid the discussions of BP, Afghanistan and al-Megrahi, Barack Obama and David Cameron found time to talk about Gary McKinnon, an Asperger's sufferer living in north London, due to be extradited to the United States after hacking into multiple government computer systems Stateside.

McKinnon's case has attracted huge attention -- not least from Cameron and his co-pilot Nick Clegg, who while in opposition supported his mother's campaign for Gary to be tried in the UK rather than face a heavy sentence in the US.

When I met Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, on 26 May, she was distraught after hearing an interview with Clegg who appeared to backtrack on the issue. This morning, she sounded a little different.

"I couldn't believe it," she said, describing the moment she turned on the news last night to see Cameron and Obama answering a question about McKinnon at their joint press conference. She had noticed Obama's smile when the issue was raised, and the hopeful reference to an "appropriate solution" being found.

But she was most amazed by the fact that Gary's case had been discussed at all. "These talks are so sensitive . . . that David Cameron brought it up is absolutely brilliant."

Still, she remains cautious. No formal word is yet to emerge from the Home Office, where Theresa May is still considering the complexity of the extradition. Sharp says she has been given conflicting hints as to when she will hear anything -- possibly before parliament breaks for the summer recess, or perhaps not until September.

Either way, she is happy that the case is back in the news, and therefore applying pressure to the government to keep Gary in Britain.

What about Gary himself? "He caught some of it," Sharp says, mentioning how she rang him immediately to tell him to switch on the television to see two of the most powerful leaders in the world discussing his plight.

While nothing is certain, that sight alone is cause for muted celebration, and a direct result, says Sharp, of "people power" -- the thousands of people and organisations who have written to the Home Office on Gary's behalf. That aside, Cameron is bound by his own words, spoken when the previous government announced McKinnon's extradition in July 2009:

Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to face trial.


Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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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