PMQs sketch: hypocrisy is the name of the game

Until this scandal, shaking Murdoch's hand was the ambition of any aspiring PM. Now they want to sha

If hypocrisy had a smell it could have been bottled and sold by the gallon from the House of Commons shop today. It might have gone down well with the slices of cold revenge and chips that were being served on the MPs' lunchtime menu.

Many thought this day would never come. Prime Minister Dave had just hoped it never would. Could it really be just three weeks ago that he and Ed and others had taken Rupert's shilling, or at least his champagne and canapés, at the News International Summer Party? Was this the one they flew across oceans and delayed holidays to meet? Could this really be the same Rupert none of them had really known, none of them had really liked and certainly none of them wanted anything more to do with? Yes, it can be revealed: it is the same rascal. Thus the stage was set for a sight as rare in British politics as a nipple-free Sun: cross-party agreement on a plan to get him.

It was an exciting occasion anyway, because it marked the last Prime Ministers Questions before the long vacation. MPs will disappear next week until October, apart from a few days in September recently written into the script in case the electorate get the hump.

So it was that Dave entered the lion's den with the look of a man who knew the game was up and a thrashing was about to be administered. He was flanked by best friend and spare back-bone George, grim-faced at the trials to come, and his loyal deputy Nick, his annual sojourn to Spain clearly on his mind but with the demeanour of someone who at last had found himself on the right side...Ed Milliband's.

When Ed stood up, the cheering was so loud that observers thought someone else had come into the chamber. Gone was Ed the Unready, and in his place the new, improved, almost unrecognisable Ed -- The Leader of the Labour Party version. The last seven days have achieved for him what the last 11 months did not, and you could see it writ large on his face.

You knew Dave was in for it when Ed began by inviting the Prime Minister to agree his neighbor and dining friend Rebekah Brooks should quit as Rupert's presence-on-earth at News International. And to agree that Rupert should abandon plans to take over BSkyB.

Dave, who has changed his tune so much in recent days that he could form his own choir ,got so flustered that he said Rebekah had already resigned. But everyone knew that this was just the preamble and that Ed has shown recently that he is finally learning the lessons of being a leader: once your opponent is down, keep kicking him.

George, the Chancellor, who apparently holds several degrees in bullying, could only whisper sweet nothings into the battered ear of his best friend as Ed, egged on by those on his own side who would happily have dumped him last month, turned, as Dave knew he would, to the unanswerable Andy question.

It will be a set text in political lectures for years to come. Was the Prime Minister of the day right to employ as his conduit to the nation's thinking someone who had made a career of examining the bedclothes of famous people? Further, why had he ignored the warnings of a queue of people, apparently long enough to line Whitehall, who believed the appointment scored 15 on the 1 to 10 scale of unfortunate decisions.

Had he been told Andy was not necessarily kosher asked Ed, confident that the PM could only squirm on the hook. The House came down, as Sir Bruce would say, as Dave denied anyone had given him good reason why the former editor of the News of the World, who resigned after a member of his staff was jailed for phone-hacking and denied he knew anything about it, should not then have been appointed his mouthpiece in Number 10.

Unanimity, the watchword at the start of the day, had lasted all of four minutes in the House of Commons. (Speaker Bercow, slightly subdued since his discovery last week that he is about to go on loan to Afghanistan, almost bounced out of his box at the volume of end of term noise.)

Of course what Dave could not say is that Andy also got the job because he was pals with, or at least knew the phone number of he whose name had ostensibly united them all in the chamber that day -- the Sun King himself, Rupert Murdoch.

Ed himself squirmed a little when Dave pointed out that his new mouthpiece Tom Baldwin also worked for Rupert for many years on the Times. But of course there now exists a new kind of UK political time: AM and PM. Ante Murdoch and Post Murdoch. AM time ended when the depth of the News of the World crisis became clear. Until then shaking Rupert warmly by the hand was the ambition of any politician hoping to become Prime Minister. PM time means the same people queuing up to shake him warmly by the throat.

Rupert has a long reach and a long memory, and this is a multi-billion pound deal. There are no rather rotund ladies singing yet. Watch this space.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

 

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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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