It makes me sick

Two hundred protesters stage a die-in during Wednesday's rush hour to speak out against air pollutio

London hums with activity. It is always doing more, never stopping to draw breath.

Or so I thought until last night. At 6.30pm, two hundred protesters lay down in the middle of the thronging Euston Road during rush hour and brought traffic to a halt. The aim was clear: to make a poignant statement about the inadequate measures currently in place to address air pollution in the Big Smoke.

Chalk marks line the protesters. 

"Boris's policies are failing us. It's a no-brainer - Boris needs to get the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted places", said Alice Haworth-Booth, spokesperson for Climate Rush.

The die-in itself was a moment of clarity in the midst of six-lane chaos. Having met in Soho Square - where large numbers of police had also gathered, intrusively filming and photographing everyone present - the crowd set off through the streets of Central London, many wearing the red sash that has become a tell-tale style of a Climate Rush action.

Bike bloc sets off through the streets of London. 

On reaching our destination, we forged forward, onto the road, 'dying' for fresh air, and for several minutes we owned that patch of tarmac; no cars, lorries, motorbikes or buses could stop us. The police were not happy, one in particular taking it upon himself to pick up people's bikes and lug them off sans-owner, tussling with people if they tried to hang onto their trusty steeds. His colleagues followed suit but the protesters were unperturbed, not willing to let themselves be distracted by those paid to keep the streets clear of political protest.

A FIT poilceman makes his presence felt. 

As we lay on the road - an incredibly odd experience at the best of times - nurses drew chalk silhouettes around us, marks aptly doused in car exhaust fumes minutes later, marks that sustained our message even once we had gone. And that message is a clear one: "atmospheric pollution is an invisible and unacceptable health hazard that few in power are taking seriously", said Mark Blake, cycling off into the traffic on his way home.

Air pollution in London is a two-fold problem. On the one hand, it poses significant problems to human health. On the other, it is leaving us vulnerable to extensive EU fines for failing to comply with legal limits. Where public health is concerned, NHS reforms have been under the spotlight recently as austerity measures have spread their suffocating tentacles into the far-reaching corners of some of the most fundamental of services. What has been apparent throughout is the misguided political will, which favours corporate profits and privatisation over quality and equality of services. The minority at the top - the Sir Philip Green's of this world - benefit from significant tax avoidance while the rest of us need to accept the closure or restructuring of local health services that play a critical role in our communities.

Where the economic aspects of air pollution are concerned, the UK is currently paying out approximately £2bn annually to address air pollution, with much greater fines in the pipeline if we do not start to address the issue head on. This is not what we need at a time when financial instability reigns. Mayor of London Boris Johnson's scrapping of the Western Extension Zone is a perfect example of the way in which people-pleasing - particularly of those who live in the wealthier Conservative constituencies - has taken precedent over the overall social and economic health of London's population.

Placards kept protesters on message. 

Nearly 5% of all annual UK deaths are attributed to poor air quality yet what is being done about it? Green Party candidate for London's Mayoral elections Jenny Jones was there last night making it clear that there are things that can and should be done immediately to improve London's air quality, including establishing very low emission zones and pushing ahead with Stage Three of the Low Emission Zone. Demonstrations such as the die-in push the issue into the public arena, as Haworth-Booth made clear:

"With the support the Roadblock got from the public, the media and from mayoral candidates Jenny Jones and Ken Livingstone - who sent us a message of support via Twitter - a spotlight has been shone on the public health emergency caused by poor air quality in London. We're incredibly impressed by the number of people who showed up and we will continue to put pressure on Boris until meaningful progress starts to be made."

So, are our politicians and Mayor going to do the right thing? Unless air quality improves, you might just have to hold your breath.

Protesters wearing suitable garb. 

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist and social justice campaigner. She also works, part time, for Streetbank, and can be found on Twitter at @tess_riley

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.