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Commons Confidential: potshots at the Lords

“I am recruiting for this year’s Lords v Commons full-bore rifle competition,” the 12th Baron Lucas emailed peers…

Arnie Graf, the man Ed Miliband asked to rebuild Labour, was kept waiting for an hour for a scheduled meeting before party election mastermind Spencer Livermore deigned to see him. Rudeness is a political weapon and a snout, cringing at the discourtesy, contrasted Old Ed with New Ed. Old Ed hired Graf, a mentor to Barack Obama when the future US president was a community organiser in Chicago, to revive the grass roots. New Ed’s latest best friend from America is David Axelrod, as Miliband’s team grabs power at the centre. Graf has been around the block a few times but he is, I’m assured, frustrated by the paranoia and politicking at the top of the Labour Party.

 

“I am recruiting for this year’s Lords v Commons full-bore rifle competition,” the 12th Baron Lucas emailed peers. “If you, or anyone you know who is connected with the Lords, a total novice or an experienced shot, would like to participate, please put them in touch with me.” There’s nothing like an Old Etonian hereditary to remind us that the House of Lords hasn’t changed that much.

 

David Cameron’s increasingly dictatorial style is irking Tory backbenchers. One MP recounted how the whips had vowed to make his life a misery and blame the poor chap personally if the party loses next year’s election. “We believe in one man, one vote democracy in the Conservative Party,” he grumbled, “and David Cameron is the man with that vote.”

 

The arts minister Ed “Hazy” Vaizey listed the pictures in the British embassy in Tehran when it was ransacked by rioters in 2011. Among the portraits of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V was a picture of the deposed shah of Iran. Talk about a red rag to an Iranian mob.

 

Belated word reaches me of a London fundraiser for frontbencher Lisa Nandy’s Wigan constituency. Miliband’s policy guru Jon Cruddas was the guest speaker. Surveying the crowd drawn from the party’s left and right, he joked: “Here we are, in a room full of Progress people and Compass people. What others don’t understand is we are united by one thing: we all hate the Brownites.” Shadow cabinet meetings would be enlivened if the roguish Cruddas were placed between Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

 

Stop press: Ed Miliband might have avoided his Sun scorching if he had been better informed, reading newspapers instead of posing with a promo copy. For a man who claims to eschew public
prints, he has earned quite a reputation for griping to editors about journalists penning disobliging articles. I can’t help but wonder if the complaints are undermined by his not reading the papers he complains about.

Kevin Maguire is 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 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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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