The unbreakable Tessa Jowell? Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Can anyone stop Tessa Jowell?

Labour's disappointing showing in London has recalibrated that party's Mayoral race - and the winner is Tessa Jowell.

"And that's the mayoral contest fucked as well," texted one supporter of Sadiq Khan as the results came in on election night. A neglible 0.3 per cent swing away from the Conservatives in Khan's own seat of Tooting echoed the disappointments to come: disappointing defeats to the Conservatives in Harrow East, Hendon, Finchley, and Khan's neighbouring constituency of Battersea.

2015 was meant to be part of the London Labour party's three-step plan to 2016: win the local and European elections, win a bumper crop of seats in the general election, win the Mayoral election. But instead of going into that final contest with a 2-0 lead over the Conservatives, it is very much 1-1. 

"I thought we'd have to spend ages praising Sadiq's landslide," says one rival campaign insider.  But the matter didn't arise. Boris Johnson's dreaded "doughnut" of Conservative voters in outer London remains largely intact. A Khan campaign source, before the general election, described their challenge as "convincing people the Mayor matters, that it's more than just picking the nicest or most well-known candidate". Now, it's about convincing members that their candidate can win: and that helps Jowell. 

The Conservatives still have considerable problems in London. Their post-Johnson candidates aren't of a particularly high quality: Sol Campbell, a hologram of Tupac Shakur, a few Johnson-era flunkies no-one has heard of, and that's it. But if they can secure a genuine top-tier candidate, like Zac Goldsmith or Karren Brady, Labour staffers concede, the party could easily hold onto City Hall in 2016.

That's changed the tenor of the contest. "We are still going to have the same focus on what Tessa's done in the past - SureStart, the Olympics - and her plans for the future on housing, crime and transport," one Jowell staffer says, "But now we've got to add to that: to say that we've only won the Mayoralty once, that we haven't won an election in decade, that we last won City Hall in 2004." 

That focus on electability appears to be helping Jowell, who has a clear lead in constituency nominations so far, despite declared candidates needing just five nominations from CLPs to get a place on the ballot. She will be joined on the ballot by Khan, David Lammy and Diane Abbott. It remains to be seen whether the transport campaigner Christian Wolmar or Gareth Thomas, the Harrow East MP, will make it onto the ballot. 

Can any of those candidates stop Jowell? The campaign, originally intended to be a short, sharp affair has been extended, ostensibly to help Khan, who, having recieved the backing of Unite and the GMB, is thought most likely to benefit from having more time to sign up supporters from the trade union. The next stage is partly about converting supporters who are already registered - but also about signing up new voters from the trade unions and general public.

The longer campaign makes it easier to recruit new supporters, but probably, harder to convert existing ones. "Twice the time means half the coverage," sighed one Jowell staffer. The membership is focussing on the leadership election, as are most of the Labour-inclined press. The Evening Standard will give intermittent coverage - "but any hope that they'd make us the most important thing vanished the second we decided to spend months on it", in the words of another campaign source.  That may fatally harm Lammy and Thomas, both of whom have put forward big ideas about where London goes next, but will be drowned out by a combination of the Burnham vs Kendall bunfight and general apathy. That just leaves two serious rivals for Jowell: Khan and Abbott. 

Frankly, even assuming a heroic feat of recruitment - and Khan certainly has a team that could pull that off - Jowell has a big lead among Labour voters and supporters. And remember that "trade union members" are some distance from the Bolshevik organisers of caricature - on the whole, they are "less politically well-informed and just more normal" in the words of one trade union official than Labour activists. Both of those help the Jowell campaign, who has the highest profile. A decent chunk of Unite and the GMB's recruits will back their preferred candidate, but a non-trivial number will vote for the candidate that they are most likely to have heard of, and that's Jowell. 

There's just one caveat worth bearing in mind: there is a candidate who is both incredibly well-known by the public at large, and is also politically closer to some of the more politically engaged trade union members who will also be signed up. Her name is Diane Abbott. If anyone can eat into Jowell's lead, it may well be her.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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