Fear him. Photo: Getty Images
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The Greens should fear Zac Goldsmith

In an election where the party must aim to do better than the good showings of 2008 and 2012, Zac Goldsmith poses a real threat, warns Jon Bartley.

I’m going to be straightforward. Zac Goldsmith has done more for the green cause within the Conservative Party than anyone else. He’s taken opposing positions from his own party’s leadership, most probably at the expense of a promising Cabinet career. On opposing Heathrow expansion and giving constituents the right to recall their Member of Parliament I, like many others, would be in agreement with Zac.

This makes Zac Goldsmith the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party at next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly election.

But Londoners must not be taken in. While Zac Goldsmith talks a good game, he shares the same economic values as the rest of the Conservative Party. On taking steps to remove the UK from Europe, ending the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for college students in England and dismantling social security for those who physically and mentally cannot work, Zac Goldsmith has been a loyal Conservative and marched through the same lobby as David Cameron and George Osborne.

When it comes to creating opportunities for new Londoners from overseas, fixing the scourge of the free market in the private rented sector and making local economies more resilient to the volatile antics of banks, Zac Goldsmith has been absent.

The unrestrained economic model Zac Goldsmith and George Osborne both subscribe to is not only the underlying driver of the environmental and energy crisis we are facing, but it is also inhibiting the solutions we need to mitigate the impact of climate change on our standard of living.

I’ve been telling Greens that I believe next year’s election will be a make or break moment for the party. While previous showings in 2008 and 2012 were good for the Greens - despite the squeeze from Boris and Ken - a Zac Goldsmith candidacy poses a new threat, not only with traditional Green voters but voters we hope to win for the first time.

When I was part of Jenny Jones’ mayoral campaign team in 2012, the focus was the usual green issues of safer cycling, air pollution and London’s ongoing housing crisis. These are all important. But the problems are a symptom of a much bigger issue; every aspect of London life is being turned into a commodity.  

Commercial haulage is prioritised over the lives of cyclists. Property speculation is encouraged at the expense of those who just want a decent home. Polluters are favoured over those who want clean air to breathe.  Cuts to public services are the result of pursuing credit-fuelled, and often illusory, growth. Everything is assigned a price. The highest bidder wins.

It is imperative that Greens move out of our comfort zone and show our widespread appeal. This won't be a referendum on air quality or climate change, but a battle for the kind of city we all want London to be. This is why I’m proposing a practical Green offer for every single Londoner.

London is a world-class city. But what Zac Goldsmith might not realise from his seat in Richmond is that too often Londoners aren’t getting the world-class jobs or the world-class services we deserve.

Good jobs for young people, affordable homes for every family, opportunities for new Londoners, stronger local economies and a transport network we can all be proud of. That’s my offer for Londoners if I’m selected as the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor.

The Green Party cannot fight this election from our historical strongholds and cannot consign ourselves to speaking solely to the City’s protest groups. London’s Greens need a candidate for Mayor who can take our offer to Londoners whether they are in Richmond, Redbridge or any other borough.

All the frontrunners from the two big parties are experienced, battle-hardened politicians. They know how to play the game. Greens need to select a candidate who can go toe-to-toe with Zac Goldsmith and provide a renunciation of his economic values. More importantly, they need a candidate who can articulate an offer that can appeal to every Londoner and a candidate who is capable of building a competitive campaigning organisation in all thirty-two boroughs.  

Zac Goldsmith is perhaps the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party in the capital but Green Party members can seize the moment and make next year’s election a genuinely Green one.

 

Jonathan Bartley is running to be the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London. He is the Green Party's national Work and Pensions spokesperson and was the Parliamentary candidate for Streatham at the 2015 general election. He is a founder and co-director of Ekklesia, a radical Christian think-tank. He tweets as @jon_bartley

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

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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