The Invisible (Tory) Man. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Jeremy Hunt takes to the wards

Plus: Who on earth is Gareth Johnson?

Nurses robbed of wage rises have a new little helper in the wards: the robber himself, Jeremy Hunt. The Health Secretary boasts of working on the NHS front line in his Surrey constituency. A local Tory leaflet carries a photograph of him in a fluorescent pinny, heroically pushing a trolley. Hunt, who is about as popular as MRSA with staff, says he volunteers on Fridays at the Haslemere, Royal Surrey and Frimley Park hospitals. He finds the work “extremely rewarding” – a phrase that NHS staff never use about their employment under Hunt’s tenure.

Tough guy, Tony Benn. The former party chair Ian McCartney, the diminutive one-time leader of Little Labour, recalled going to talk about flooding in the Kent coalfield with Benn, who was then the energy secretary. Benn broke his ankle falling down the stairs on his way out of the Department of Energy building. The lefty hobbled in to cabinet and went to hospital later. Whenever the pair subsequently met, Benn would joke to McCartney, “Don’t come near me.” Whatever else he did, Benn nailed the old canard that lefties lack humour.

Have you heard of Gareth Johnson? I hadn’t. Apparently he’s a Tory MP. In four years, I can’t recall seeing or hearing the invisible member for Dartford in the House of Commons. Perhaps our paths just never cross. Further investigation has discovered that he is lobby fodder, hardly ever rebelling, and tops up his £66,396 salary with an £800 monthly sideline as a solicitor. How many more nonentities are there in the place?

Grumbling is heard in the Labour ranks after a one-line whip was imposed for a vote against disability cuts but there was a two-liner on badgers. Old lags mutter the welfare of people should be a higher priority than that of animals. True, but saving Mr Brock is a cost-free manifesto pledge – radicalism on the cheap. The disabled come with a price tag and, my unhappy lefty snout complained, they don’t generate as much sympathy. Which is tragic if true.

Leafing through the leatherbound book signed by guest speakers at Press Gallery luncheons in the Mock-Gothic Fun Palace, an informant deciphered on the front page the scribble of Richard Beeching, the British Railways chair who shut thousands of stations. Presumably Dr Beeching axed the previous volume.

Adam Afriyie has eclectic tastes. A snout spied the Tory drinking champagne and Diet Coke at the plush Corinthia Hotel, close to Westminster. I hasten to add for the benefit of the snooty Nicholas Soames, a puffed-up grandee who seems to treat the council-estate-made millionaire as an inferior, that Afriyie sipped from separate glasses.

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 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

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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