Stay classy: Wake up London’s Vanessa Bafoe
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Capital punishment: the launch of London Live

There can’t be a human being alive who would willingly sit through most of the new station’s original output.

London Live

According to a certain newspaper website, on the evening of the launch of London Live, the capital’s new television station, its proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, invited 30 friends over to his place to celebrate this historic moment. Stephen Fry, Liz Hurley, Andrew Neil, Tracey Emin, Ed Miliband – you know, just your average midweek crowd. Lord, how I would have loved to have been there, my hand deep in a bowl of salted almonds.

Assuming a flat-screen was in play, what did his pals make of it? And if, as I’ve read, Tony Hall, the opera-loving director general of the BBC, was in attendance, what was his reaction to London Live’s magazine programme Not the One Show (weekdays, 7pm)? At the least, it must have put the axing of BBC3 in a new light, for beside the incontinent wittering of Not the One Show’s presenter Louise Scodie, even Snog Marry Avoid? starts to look like something Lord Reith might have enjoyed. Poker faces all round, one imagines.

Like BBC3, London Live is aiming to attract a young audience. I don’t think it should hold its breath. It may be that some people will tune in to watch the programmes it has bought in – Misfits, Peep Show . . . er, London’s Burning – but there can’t be a human being alive, young or old, who would willingly sit through most of its original output (under the terms of its licence, the channel must screen five and a half hours of London “news” a day). Ten minutes is my unbroken endurance record so far, though with wine and a takeaway I might be able to make it to 12.

The first show I caught was London Go (weekdays, 6.30pm), a guide to all that’s happening in the capital. Or not. Outside the O2 in Greenwich, Maleena Pone was talking to people as they arrived to see Justin Timberlake. “Do you play an instrument?” she asked a schoolgirl fan. “I play the clarinet,” said the girl. “I think Justin would like the clarinet,” said Pone. Keen to build the excitement, she made reference to the “flood” of people coming her way. Three blokes duly sauntered past. She then handed over to her co-presenter, who was outside the Assembly Hall in Islington, north London. “What’s Justin’s favourite colour?” she asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. We flipped back to Pone but she didn’t know either. My God. Even now, I’m on tenterhooks. Could someone tweet me the answer? Still, on the upside, it seems there are loos at the O2. Try finding that kind of information in Time Out.

A comfort break for me – I soothed myself by banging my head on the kitchen table –  and then it was time for Not the One Show. (See what they did there? I’d be tempted to quote the proverb “A cat may look at a king” if The One Show weren’t so dire.) This programme comes from the London Live studio, which is roughly twice the size of Phillip Schofield’s old broom cupboard and has a Do It All aesthetic that DIY fans will adore (think bar stools). The young panellists, among them the homes and property correspondent of the Evening Standard, which has lately come over all North Korean in the cause of its sister company, were doing a news quiz. “I see a haystack and a needle,” said one, gazing at a photograph of, yes, a needle and a haystack. “Something is . . . lost.” It turned out that the thing in question was – stay classy, guys – flight MH370.

Does this stuff count as “current affairs”? It seems that London Live is hoping it does, its definition of “news” having to do mostly with “connecting” people, with persuading them to join the big “debate” (ie, send us your tweets, which will fill up minutes of airtime and cost us nothing). Unfortunately, its idea of what constitutes a debate-worthy issue beggars belief. When I turned on Wake Up London (weekdays, 6am), the breakfast show, the presenter was asking: which are better, cats or dogs? A “reporter” had been despatched to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to gawp at cute kittens and droopy-faced mutts.

What’s that? You already knew there was a world-famous dogs home at Battersea? Oh, well. Plenty more insights to come. Next week: London Live reveals that Tower Bridge sometimes opens right up. Plus, cabbies: aren’t they comedians? Do send us your texts on that one!

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Anxiety nation

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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