Woolas should go quietly

Rather than fighting on in the courts, the former Labour MP should simply apologise.

There's more bad news for Phil Woolas today. The high court has rejected his request for a judicial review of the election court ruling, saying he should instead appeal against the ruling. Despite this, Woolas's legal team is reportedly planning to make a fresh application for judicial review.

But any victory (and the odds are against it) would be decidedly pyrrhic. Woolas's political reputation is already shot and Harriet Harman has confirmed that he is not welcome in the Labour Party, even if he overturns the court ruling. In order to salvage some dignity, Woolas should surely drop all legal proceedings and apologise to the Liberal Democrats, Labour and his constituents.

Meanwhile, as I feared, Woolas has attracted a growing number of Labour apologists. "Hung out to dry" was the cliché of choice for the Labour MP Graham Stringer and Peter Watt, the party's former general secretary. With remarkable understatement, Watt describes Woolas's leaflets as "controversial, to say the least". He cannot bring himself to condemn an election campaign that deliberately sought to whip up racial and religious tensions for political gain.

As for Stringer, echoing those who have warned (employing another cliché) that the Woolas judgment "opens a can of worms", he describes Woolas's removal as a "dangerous precedent". Those who adopt this line are either ignorant of the court's ruling, or are misrepresenting it.

Here is the full wording of the law (Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983) that Woolas breached:

(1) A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which –

(a) before or during an election,

(b) for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.

As Mike Smithson points out, the court judgment was based entirely on the false claims Woolas made about his Lib Dem opponent, not his policy statements. Thus, those such as Robert Halfon MP and Tory Radio, who suggest that parties could now be hauled up over misleading manifestos, or that Labour MPs could be punished for the party's cancer leaflets, could not be more wrong.

But what does it say about our political culture that a court judgment that should deter candidates from lying about their opponents is condemned as a "dangerous precedent"?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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