They are the masters now. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

2015 was the first election I cared about. It didn't end well

Five years ago, the election was thousands of miles away in both sense. This time, it was up close and personal. The worst thing is, I'm one of the luckier ones.

I woke up on Friday 8 May at about 6.45am in a state of confusion. I had collapsed on the sofa, still in my school uniform, and as I reached for my phone to check Twitter, I prayed that the exit polls would be wrong. I prayed that my favourite female MPs, the likes of Lynne Featherstone and Jane Ellison who have supported my work to end female genital mutilation (FGM) had kept their seats. I prayed that Nigel Farage would resign and Nick Clegg wouldn’t lose his seat. (Don’t judge – I have a soft spot for him). Most of all, I prayed that the Conservatives would not win the 326 seats they needed in the House of Commons that would lead to a full-blown Tory government for the next five years.

It was all wishful thinking. To my horror, the Conservatives had already won 240 seats with 118 seats to go, many of which could be won by them.. And by the time my afternoon lessons were over, David Cameron had smugly talked about his “sweet victory”, Nigel Farage had called Ukip the party for “young working women” (which is strange, as he called for women of ‘childbearing age’ not to be employed) and the Conservatives had won a majority in the House of Commons with 331 seats. Everything seemed like a mess and still exhausted from the night before, I went to bed.

This was the first general election I paid full attention to. Five years ago I was 11 and living in Nigeria and British politics felt, and was, thousands of miles away. A lot has changed since 2010 and a lot will change by 2020. By 2020, I want to have graduated from university, hopefully have a job and might start looking at getting my feet up the property ladder. However, things look a bit bleak. The average student will now graduate with £44,000 of debt and youth unemployment stands at 63.2 per cent. Under the Tories, 3.3 million young people are living with their parents into their thirties as rents and deposits continue to increase. Analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that if things continue the way they are, the average deposit for a house will be £72,000.

I am not saying that a Labour government is the best thing for Britain; I really don’t know. Nevertheless, I am certain that a full-blown Tory government is not what Britain needs, and it is certainly not what young people need.

Labour promised to ban zero hour contracts and the party also promised to ‘tackle the growth of unpaid internships because thousands of highly paid young people who cannot afford to work for free are locked out of too many of our professions’. 16-17 year olds would be given the vote –a huge constitutional step forward, although I still think political education is important. And they would unlock a Future Homes Fund to invest in increasing housing supply and legislate to make three year tenancies the norm. Oh, and they were planning to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. Reading through these policies, it felt like one party was actually making policies that could influence the lives of the most vulnerable young people in Britain. Reading through the Conservative policies and it felt like somebody had pointed out there was nothing for young people so at 2am in the morning, with some slightly tipsy people round the table, stuff was written down and the manifesto was sent to the printer. There wasn’t enough to show that David Cameron cared.

My biggest fear now is the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer. I worry that so many young people will be homeless and in debt. I worry many will be unable to find jobs. I worry that mental health issues will continue to be ignored. I worry that young women will be ‘othered’ and silence and I worry that we will continue to pretend like Britain is a country where people of colour don’t exist. I am extremely privileged and I know that. I have a place to call home. I will not go hungry. Not everybody is as lucky as I am, and luck shouldn’t come into accessing the basic things in life regardless of personal circumstance. This is why I believe in a party that does not discriminate and puts the most vulnerable in society first. This is why I want a party that prioritizes young people, the future of our country.

Instead, I’m worried that things are going to get a lot worse.

 

June Eric-Udorie is a 17-year-old writer whose writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan and the New Statesman among others.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496