Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Sadiq Khan: Labour London mayoral candidates must not be "distracted" from general election

The shadow London minister warns that the party "will not forgive" those focused on the contest to come. 

The first split of the general election campaign has arrived, with Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Diane Abbott going to war over the mansion tax. Murphy has pledged to use Scotland's share of the revenue to fund 1,000 new nurses north of the border, leading Abbott to attack him on The World At One for believing "he can buy Scottish votes with money expropriated from London" (the mirror image of the nationalist claim that England is "stealing" North Sea oil). For his part, Murphy declared: "I don't have to consult Diane Abbott ... I am leader of the Scottish Labour Party, not Diane."

Abbott isn't the only one of Labour's London mayoral candidates to have denounced Murphy. David Lammy said: "This has been my concern about the Mansion Tax from the start: that up to 90 per cent of it will come from the pockets of Londoners while only a tiny proportion will be spent on London’s public services. It cannot be right, when one in three Londoners is living in poverty, that the money raised from London taxpayers continues to be siphoned off to other regions." And Tessa Jowell said: "London’s needs are great - we cannot simply act as the cash cow for the rest of the UK."

Among those who will be angered by the public divisions is Sadiq Khan, Labour's shadow justice secretary and shadow London minister. When I interviewed him yesterday for the NS, he warned the party's mayoral candidates not to be "distracted" from fighting the general election. He told me: 

Until the general election’s done and dusted, all our energies have to be focused on it. London is best served by a Labour government; anybody who’s distracted by campaigning, by doing anything for themselves as an individual is letting down London. Not letting down the Labour Party, not just letting down themselves, letting down London.

I understand why people have declared they want to be candidates, I understand why people are chasing money for their campaigns, I understand all that. But I tell you what, you’ve got to ask yourself the question 'Is what I’m doing, more or less likely to help secure be a Labour government after 7 May?' If the answer is more likely, all well and good, but if you’re distracted running a campaign, how is that helping the Labour Party?

He added: "The point is this: you could have the best Labour mayor we’ve ever seen, but if you’ve got a Tory government privatising the NHS, not building homes, increasing inequality, keeping the bedroom tax, having young people thrown on the scrapheap, leaving the European Union, Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom, what is the point? All our efforts need to be focused on making sure there’s a Labour government on 7 May, that’s where my energies are focused. Labour Party members, Labour Party supporters, the trade unions, MPs from outside London who are Labour will not forgive those people who want to be the Mayor of London who are distracted before 7 May in campaigning." 

But what of Khan's own intentions? The Tooting MP is regarded by Labour figures as almost certain to stand for the mayoral nomination this summer. He told me: "It’s a privilege just to be asked that question. I can’t tell you what a buzz it gives me as somebody born and raised here, son of immigrants, whose Dad was a bus driver, Mum was a seamstress, I’ve got eight siblings, living on a council estate ... for you to ask me that question is so flattering - and it’s a job I’d love to do one day." 

From that answer it is clear that the general election is unlikely to be Khan's only big battle this year. 

The full version of our interview with Sadiq Khan will appear in this week's NS. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.