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Frank Field calls for Labour MPs to stand as independents if deselected

Former minister says MPs should trigger immediate by-elections and run as "independent Labour" candidates if removed. 

One of the greatest causes of unrest among Labour MPs was the launch last week of new group Momentum. The organisation is billed as a "grassroots movement" to harness the energy of Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. But MPs fear it will become a vehicle for the deselection of critics of the Labour leader as parliamentary candidates. The involvement of Jon Lansman, a veteran of the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, and an advocate of mandatory reselection, is the cause of particular anxiety. "When there are selections of an MP, I would like to see MPs who reflect the values of members of the party," he said recently. "The fact is that Liz Kendall got 4 per cent of the votes in the leadership contest." 

In my column in tomorrow's NS, I reveal how some are responding to the threat. Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, told me that any MPs "picked off" should "cause a by-election immediately" and "stand as independent Labour". He said: "If candidates are picked off they will stand as independent Labour, cause a by-election immediately and a whole pile of us will go down there to campaign for them. They can't expel 60 of us. Momentum ought to know that they're not the only pair of wide eyes in the business. We're not powerless." He added: "Those of us who are not going to let Momentum win have a trump card on our side, which is that we would probably win the by-election." Field's intervention marks the first time since Corbyn's election that an MP has suggested that colleagues could stand against each other.

It is not only critics of the Labour leader who have been antagonised by Lansman. One Corbyn-supporting MP told me: "Jon Lansman needs to wind his neck in and get back in his box. He's doing a lot of damage." Sources suggest that Corbyn, who has rejected calls for the reintroduction of mandatory reselection, may soon distance himself from Lansman. 

Momentum supporters cannot fully rebut the claim that it will be used for deselection attempts. Forthcoming boundary changes will force selection contests in some seats and activists can already initiate “trigger ballots” against incumbents. But Corbynites are seeking to reassure their colleagues. Katy Clark, one of Momentum’s six directors, told me: “The reality is, if you’re a good constituency MP, constituency Labour parties recognise that. I would say to anybody who’s worried about new people coming into the Labour Party: embrace it, work with the new members, engage them.” She added: "People need to recognise what took place over the summer. People that voted for Jeremy understood why they were voting Jeremy ... If people supported other candidates they need to reflect on why those candidates weren't successful". 

Shadow minister Clive Lewis, another Momentum director, told me: "If people are concerned about Momentum, all I would say is judge it on what it does. If there are people who are spouting off about reselections and so on and so forth, those people are clowns, anyone involved with Momentum that is talking about that is a clown.

"I can speak for myself, I think I can speak for any of the MPs who've been associated with this, we are doing this from a positive perspective in terms of campaigning and engaging those new members - that is it. I want to see as many MPs as possible, as many members as possible involved with it. It has nothing to do with some kind of sectarian project. That's me saying that hand on heart, those are the intentions. That's not the politics that I backed in Jeremy Corbyn - sectarian politics. Always politics, always policy, never personal ... We want this to harness the energy of the Corbyn campaign and work with the Labour Party." 

George Eaton is political editor of 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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