Green bananas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
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Jack Monroe on Ed's two kitchens, leaving Labour – and why it's time to go bananas

Labour’s last straw was the “immigrants and benefits” scaremongering in one of its national leaflets. That’s not the party I joined. But it’s the party I left.

It’s banana season! It’s technically always banana season around here but according to my desktop seasonality calendar, which I check with alarming regularity these days, March is banana season proper – and that’s fine by me. At the Fairtrade Fortnight conference last year, we were told that there were hundreds of varieties of bananas being grown in the world but only one kind was sold in supermarkets. I wistfully remember Asda flirting with some fat, red-skinned bananas in my youth but they were short-lived. These days, living in Hammersmith, I can get socking great plantains cheaper than bananas. I recently had mole-drenched short ribs at a branch of the Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, with a silky-sweet plantain purée to offset the sauce’s oral assault of heat and bitterness, and immediately bought some plantains afterwards as a reminder to make my own. They ended up as chips for the kids but the intention was there.

The most important thing about bananas is to buy Fairtrade ones. Some of the major supermarkets have Fairtrade bananas in their value ranges now, so there’s no excuse not to buy a banana from producers that pay a fair wage. Why would you want an unfair banana glowering at you from your fruit bowl? It just feels unfriendly. I feel as I type this that it may be one of those things I’m disproportionately passionate about. Congrats if you’ve read this far. I’ll move on.

 

It’s not me, it’s you

Speaking of bananas, there’s certainly some rubbish that passes for insightful commentary these days, generally of the 140-characters-at-a-time variety. “Reactionaries [are] relentlessly obsessing in the white noise of the internet,” as I put it in my Guardian column, explaining a few of my reasons for stepping down as “Miliband’s poster girl” (order-order.com’s accolade, not mine) and hugging the Green Party instead. In 2013, I met Ed at a party conference and asked him what he was going to do about food banks and zero-hours contracts and the correlation between the two. His reply started with: “If we get into government . . .” I shouted at him: full-on, temper-lost shouting. It’s a disgrace that families have to go hungry for a day in the sixth-richest economy in the world; advocating the idea that they have to hang around for 20 months and hope that Labour gets elected before anything changes was unbelievable. A bit of me died that afternoon. The relationship started to crack, like a chip in a favourite teacup you carry on using anyway, knowing that one day it will shatter in your hands and scald you.

At Glasto’s Left Field later in the year, I described my loyalty to the party as akin to my relationship with my four-year-old son: they can be a little shit sometimes but you love them so you stick by them. My son listens and modifies his behaviour when he’s in the wrong, which is fortuitous as, unlike the red-for-Green exchange, I can’t just cancel my direct debit and get a new, slightly better-behaved one. Labour’s last straw was the “immigrants and benefits” scaremongering in one of its national leaflets. That’s not the party I joined. But it’s the party I left.

 

Dancing queens

On to lighter matters. A friend called to say that she had tickets for Nile Rodgers and Chic at the Roundhouse in Camden and to ask me if I wanted to come disco dancing. Being 27, I wasn’t the intended audience, but instead of asking, “Who?” I had a listen online in the days before. The wonders of modern technology: no more hovering around the radio all afternoon, waiting for a song to come on so we could push down the play and record button simultaneously and impress it on to a cracked old cassette . . . It’s just a quick search away now, which is more efficient but somehow less thrilling.

We went along in our band of four, in luminous shirts and flat, sensible shoes, quite unlike the ones I went dancing in during my heyday as a shots dolly at a local nightclub (there are photos somewhere, but thankfully I don’t have any and nobody would believe it was me anyway). It was a hoot: a happy-go-lucky, shuffling, disco hoot. We managed to be out by 11pm, too – it really wasn’t like that in my day.

 

Ministers in flight

Kitchengate – Sarah Vine v Ed Miliband – is rumbling on, with a brilliantly clear photo of a Private Eye column doing the rounds on Twitter. In this way, a good barney can rumble on for weeks as it drifts back again and again into the consciousness of the chattering classes. I was heartened to see the rambunctious Jay Rayner getting involved, querying the brass neck of Mr and Mrs Gove reportedly having the taxpayer fund a £750 Loire table and £66,000 of home decor and calmly facing down Vine’s bleating about being “trolled” (loosely interpreted to mean “publicly asked awkward questions about where the taxpayers’ money went”).

Mind you, Michael Gove is a man who gets a £110,000 limo service to take him from Downing Street to Westminster, a distance so pithy that I could probably hammer-throw him from A to B myself. I imagine I wouldn’t be the only one volunteering for this new, green, low-cost mode of transport: MP-hurling, better for congestion, the purse strings and the environment. I’ll put it in the Greens’ suggestion box.

 

This charming man

Finally, I was deeply unimpressed to open the Guardian one morning to see Kelvin MacKenzie gurning out of it with a byline. I still feel a little grubby from the time he sat next to me at dinner before BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? last year. His charming opening gambit was something along the lines of: “I’m sorry I don’t know who you are . . . but then I’m not very interested in girls who look like you.” This came with a disdainful hand gesture at my lumberjack-shirt-and-vest combination and the sleeves shoved up to show off two arms full of tattoos. I chalked that one up as a barometer of decency. Given what I know of Kelvin’s interests, I’m relieved not to be one of them.

Jack Monroe is the author of “A Year in 120 Recipes” (Michael Joseph)

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double 2015

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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