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Labour suspends local party meetings to avoid intimidation – will it work?

In an unprecedented move, CLP meetings have been stopped until the leadership election is over.

The Labour party has suspended local meetings of its constituency branches until its leadership election is complete.

This unprecedented decision was made to avoid the risk of intimidation and abuse at local meetings, in a party that has become rapidly more divided – with aggression escalating among activists and in politicians’ language.

The party’s National Executive Committee decided to temporarily cancel all local party meetings following the suspension of an entire local Manchester branch on Tuesday evening. The Gorton constituency party was suspended by Labour, and is now under police investigation, after allegations of infighting, bullying and voting irregularities. These allegations “relate to the conduct of Labour Party members both during and outside of Labour Party meetings”, according to Labour HQ.

The morning following Gorton’s suspension, the Huffington Post revealed the NEC’s ban on local branches meeting until Jeremy Corbyn’s fate is decided, reporting: “The move to suspend local party meetings was to prevent further intimidation and violence of MPs and members.”

CLPs (Constituency Labour Parties) are now only permitted to meet to nominate a leadership candidate, and in the circumstance of a by-election or mayoral election:

Corbyn and the Labour leadership have been repeatedly urged to combat the climate of intimidation in their party. And this is an example of the party taking measures to prevent such situations arising.

But will it work?

While CLP meetings are easily suspended, MPs must, of course, continue to do constituency work. And there is nothing the party has done to prevent angry activists demonstrating outside the constituency offices/surgeries of MPs they’re not keen on, although Momentum has urged its supporters not to. This kind of protest can cause MPs and their staff to feel personally attacked simply for representing their constituents.

Also, some local members are getting around the ban by holding impromptu, informal meetings. For example, on Wednesday, 41 members of Hounslow’s local Labour party held a spontaneous meeting to reiterate their support for Corbyn after the official Brentford and Isleworth branch meeting was cancelled at short notice. Brentford Labour member James Rosen says: “With Labour branch meetings suspended until after the leadership contest, grassroots Labour members will continue to meet as planned to support Jeremy Corbyn.”

Temporarily cancelling meetings might give aggressors fewer places to go for now. But in a climate where a brick has been thrown through the window of leadership candidate Angela Eagle’s constituency office, there should also be a longer-term strategy to target abuse in and around the party.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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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