What Nick Griffin and Stella Creasy's tweets taught me

From the BNP leader's praise for Dark Side of the Moon to the Labour MP's Twitter spat with Frankie Boyle, we're being reminded that our politicians are humans.

Over the last couple of days a few things have happened which have made me think about the relationship between politicians and the public. They are:

1) Nick Griffin telling his Twitter followers that "today is the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's brlliant (sic) Dark Side of the Moon. One of first albums I ever bought."

2) Blue eyed Tory miscreant Bernard Jenkin going on the Today programme to complain, in the wake of a low turn-out in the Eastleigh by-election, about the inability of a "managerial class" in Westminster politics to engage with the electorate.

3) Loan shark-hunting Labour promoter of dubious musical tastes Stella Creasy "calling out" (ugh) James Arthur abuser/lookalike Frankie Boyle for tweeting that Tory head girl smug machine Claire Perry must "Have a clitoris like a toddler's leg hanging out of a pram" during her appearance on Question Time.

Are they connected? I don't know. Let's deal with the three in turn:

1) First reaction: fuck me. Second reaction: I wonder if he got stoned while listening to "Us and Them" and got the wrong end of the stick. Third: That album came out when he was 14, allegedly the same year he read Mein Kampf. Other albums out that year: Innervisions. Let's Get It On (I'm guessing he didn't like those). Aladdin Sane. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Quadrophenia. There's one hell of a Venn diagram you could draw there.

Anyway, this is all part of something the format of Twitter offers. In a weird way, we're seeing a little bit more of our politicians than we used to - in this case, perhaps more than we want. We're being reminded they're humans, and that humans can hold political views that are independent of an otherwise mundane existence. As we've seen, Gerry Adams tweets about baking, flowers and his Bichon Frise. It's an interesting correlative to the football crowd-style political discourse we see on the internet whereby people with conservative views are soulless Emperor Palpatine types and anyone on the left is basically Neil from The Young Ones. It makes us remember that politicians hold the views they do because they want to do good (even if they end up achieving the opposite), and that's a good starting point for debate. It makes it more civilised, and thereby more productive.

And what do you know? This leads us to Bernard Jenkin.

2) I was watching Twitter while listening to this: the commentariat were lapping it up. And I felt there was something slightly unedifying about middle class white guys getting excited about another middle class white guy's complaints that the middle class white guys with whom he primarily works don't appeal to the wider electorate. Especially - and this is the big thing - when you consider the reasons he was actually citing: he had a good point that Westminster had been unimpressive in its response to the Mid Staffs report, but otherwise he was yammering on about "red tape", health and safety, and European financial regulation. In other words, all those core Tory voter issues that failed for the likes of IDS. It was just another backbench Tory jab at the coalition, disguised as something else entirely. I found it trite.

3) This (sort of) leads us to the Creasy/Boyle debate. Which was genuinely fascinating.

I'll try to distil it as it was all rather muddled by various threads. Creasy asked Boyle "Do you agree there is any damage to be done in casualising such graphic aggression about women in public arena?" Boyle responded: "The real danger is from people in politics towards the public, not the other way round...I'm saying politicians in general are often hostile to their society & yet fear ridicule."

Creasy disagreed: "As the great freddie mercury (sic) taught us all ridicule is nothing to be scared of....a society scarred by misogyny though..." Boyle accepted this was a problem, but claimed it wasn't relevant to the joke because "The idea that sexual imagery related to women is sexist is inherently conservative." So Creasy responded: "As a feminist do you think you are promoting equality & tackling objectification of women describing someone in that way?"

And this lead us to the germane bit. Boyle asked: "That's the intention. Do you think belonging to a party that seems suspect on immigration/asylum that you can promote equality?" Creasy said there was "a disjuncture between [the] intent and the impact," of Boyle's initial comment. Boyle concluded: "I think your assessment of the impact might be wrong. Politicians can live in a bit of a bubble."

Some thoughts:

First, in terms of who's right and wrong, no one: they both make interesting arguments. That said, throughout the debate, Creasy kept retweeting the responses she was getting from Boyle's followers. A couple of them seemed to prove her point: "Looking at her on [Question Time] I can see she may suffer from Camel Toe"; "so sexism is pointing out that women have a clitoris? Or are you bitter that no one has ever found yours?" I was inclined to take her side on the whole wider impact thing.

Second, I found Boyle's claim that politicians "can live in a bit of a bubble" bloody hilarious. Full disclosure: I used to work with him for a bit. He seemed nice enough. But if you asked him who I was, he wouldn't have a clue. And this is because I worked behind the scenes on a TV show he was on and he was The Talent. That's: The Talent. And I will tell you that the culture behind the cameras is to treat The Talent like a Maharajah, right up until the moment they fall out of favour. I'm not saying he doesn't know anything about ordinary people's lives - after all, stand ups have to engage with the public all the time, especially on the way up. I'm just saying he's making this point to the wrong MP, and he's probably the wrong person to be making it.

But the fact he can argue this without being called out (ugh, again) tells us a lot about how we see our politicians. In terms of her relationship with the voting public, Creasy's a great MP: constantly on social media, tweeting out pictures of this or that Walthamstow event and, though she won't thank me for leading us back to Mr Griffin, talking about music. It might get a bit cloying, but it gives a sense of transparency and engagement that's a million miles away from moaning about issues close to your heart in the early hours of a Saturday morning when Radio 4 can find a slot for you. Journalists these days are expected to build their profile through social media: it's basically a work requirement. Today, it should be the same for politicians.

I'm not going to pretend we'll solve the problem of a disengaged electorate at a stroke with a few tweets - but it's time our politicians got the message and followed Creasy's lead in how they engage with us. We care about what's going on on our doorstep. We want to engage with human beings. Yet what do we get? We get this, or variants of it, every day on our rolling news channels and radio stations. Still, I suppose we do all know the strikes are wrong now.

It's a sad truth, but a far-right winger with a liking for prog rock is almost easier to understand than a man standing in front of a camera and repeating himself, over and over again.

Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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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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