Are more women to join the green benches of the House of Commons after next year's general election? Photo: Flickr
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Two thirds of parliamentary candidates in party-held seats are women

Given that only 23 per cent of MPs are women at present, the high number of female parliamentary candidates selected for party-incumbent seats is a small, but important triumph.

Finally some good news for gender parity in Westminster. Almost two thirds of parliamentary candidates selected so far in seats held by their party are women.

To date 53 MPs have announced their intention to step down at next year's general election, of which 72 per cent are men and 28 per cent women. Futhermore, two male MPs and one female MP have been deselected.

Of the 37 seats in which the candidate for the incumbent party has been selected, 65 per cent are women, according to new research by PR company Insight.

The boost towards gender parity has been driven by both Labour, which has selected 15 women and four men to fight its incumbent seats, and the Lib Dems, who have chosen five women and three men. The Conservatives have selected six men and three women.

There is certainly a long way to go towards reaching equal gender representation in SW1. At present only 23 per cent of MPs are women, putting the UK 65th in the world - beaten by Afghanistan and more than 20 African nations.

And despite promising in 2009 that he would appoint women to a third of ministerial posts, David Cameron has yet to reach his target. The number of women in the cabinet - three out of 22 with full voting rights - is the lowest in more than 15 years.

While the Labour Party has successfully used all-women shortlists in candidate selection processes to attain an equal gender split, the Conservatives have demurred from introducing them so far. Appetite is growing, however, which was most clearly indicated when former Conservative Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman joined the call for them earlier this year.

Last week speculation about the Conservatives adopting all-women shortlists was rife after Nicky Morgan, the Tory minister for women, said that "no option is off the table" with regard to the party recruiting more female MPs in a webchat on Mumsnet. Senior Tory sources were quick to categorically rule out such a move, however.

The Conservative party has faced increasing pressure to select female candidates and promote women MPs. Five female MPs elected in 2010 will not be standing for re-election next May. One of them, Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh was deselected - the polyglot former lawyer dismissed as a "silly girl" by some local Conservatives in her rural Yorkshire seat.

Even the Speaker John Bercow felt compelled to speak out last February that the Commons is losing "far too many outstanding members and far too many outstanding female members".

In a boost for racial equality as well as gender, the report by Insight revealed that 14 per cent of candidates in incumbent party seats identify as black, Asian or ethnic minority, roughly reflecting UK demographics; the 2011 census recorded the BME population as 12.1 per cent. 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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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