Hold your nose. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Strong wind batters No 10

Surely, a farting competition didn't take place right outside the PM's house?

Guarding the gates of Downing Street is so dull that the armed cops are forced to play silly games to break the boredom. This is why a female member of the No 10 staff, strolling nearby, heard three officers indulging in what I’m assured sounded like a farting competition. Either that, or baked beans should be scrapped from the canteen menu. Andrew Mitchell could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d offered to break wind when asked to move to the right with his bicycle.

Tongues were bitten when Cherie Blair announced she has a Chinese sister-in-law. Thoughts turned instantly to the former Mrs Rupert Murdoch, Wendi Deng, a great admirer of Cherie’s hubby and mother of one of Mr Blair’s godchildren. At the Chinese for Labour bash, Cherie was in fact referring to Katy Tse, the Hong Konger wife of Tony’s brother, Bill. You’ve got to admire Cherie’s chutzpah. Or lack of self-awareness.

Jokes about the lovestruck Wendi’s mooning (“Oh, sh*t, oh, sh*t. Whatever why I’m so missing Tony … He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt … And he is slim tall”) are compulsory on the Labour fundraising circuit under the party’s unofficial constitution. The shadow cabinet minister Owen Smith, MCing a London gig for the Cardiff candidates Jo Stevens and Mari Williams, quipped: “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding – Wendi was writing about me, not Tony.” In your dreams, son.

The banker Kwasi Kwarteng, one of Dave’s brigade of Old Etonians, often goes AWOL when the work and pensions committee grills a Tory minister. The Spelthorne MP dodged Lord Freud after skipping Iain Duncan Smith the previous week. While colleagues interrogated IDS, Kwarteng was spied sipping coffee in Portcullis House a floor below. Dock that MP’s pay for failing to turn up for interviews.

Work started during the Commons recess to convert the members’ centre in Portcullis into a members’ lounge. The computers and desks are to be replaced by easy chairs and sofas, so that MPs can entertain guests in private instead of sitting at tables in public. Lobbyists should form an orderly queue.

There’s been griping in the members’ tearoom over a large neon sign advertising opening times and the like. My snout overheard a table of Tory MPs moaning that it “commercialised” the tea-and-crumpets bolt-hole. Isn’t that what right-whingers want to do to public services?

Flood woes left Ed Miliband out of his depth as water lapped over the top of his wellies and Nigel Farage forced a smile in his waders. The rubber trousers leaked; the Ukip leader was as wet as any mainstream politician.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Space Issue

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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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