Boris Johnson heckled for almost two hours in Lewisham

The mayor was not made to feel welcome.

Boris Johnson faced one of the most hostile audiences of his mayoralty last night at the People's Question Time in Catford, attacked relentlessly over his role in supporting the closure of Lewisham A&E, his money-losing cable car, fire station closures, gun and knife crime, the cross-river tram, and his climate "sceptic" Telegraph column.

The majority of the event, which Boris is legally mandated to attend (explaining why he was to be found in the lion's den), was spent focusing on the closure of the local accident and emergency department and Lewisham hospital. It's a particularly sore point in the area, because, as Rowenna Davis explained, the hospital isn't being closed because it's under performing, but because other local hospitals are under performing. The intention, it seems, is to drive "business" to those hospitals by closing the successful one.

Despite the published schedule, the A&E closure was discussed as part of nearly every topic, from housing:

 

 

To the economy:

 

 

In addition, there was a section at the start dedicated to it. Lewishamites forced the Mayor to confront the fact that, while he is frequently outspoken on areas he has no control over, such as taxation or immigration, he pleads inability when asked to do the same with the A&E. Similarly, a zombie statistic—that "100 lives would be saved" by the move—was repeatedly brought up by Boris and shot down by attendees, including local MP Heidi Alexander.

At one point, a local doctor pointed out that the Mayor's responsibility for tackling health inequalities, and said that by ignoring Lewisham's effect on that, Boris was being cowardly. It's fair to say he lost the plot at that one. Darryl Chamberlain posted a recording of Johnson's reply:

 

 

It's rare for Boris to get this angry publicly, though he has a reputation for a bit of a temper behind closed doors. The recording also makes clear just how hostile the crowd was; he can barely be heard over the heckles and jeers.

The other hefty load of criticism was reserved for the cable-car (officially called the "Emirates Airline", just as frequently referred to as the "dangleway"). Connecting two tourist attractions, the O2 Dome and ExCeL exhibition centre, the link was sold to south-east Londoners as a new river crossing in an area sorely deprived of them. In fact, after a burst of use during the Olympics, the cable-car—which can carry as many passengers per hour as a modestly-frequent bus service, but costs almost three times as much and doesn't accept travelcards—has fallen into such disuse that the European Regional Development Fund has stepped in with an £8m boost to its ailing finances.

Johnson seems to have accepted that, as a public transport project, the dangleway is a busted flush, instead defending it as a tourist attraction to Lewisham:

 

 

Since one of the Mayor's first acts in office was to cancel the cross-river tram, an ambitious proposal from Peckham to Camden crossing the river at Waterloo bridge, the cable car had a high bar to cross. Judging by local response, it hasn't.

The wonderful @bitoclass has storified the entire meeting if you want more Boris schadenfreude than you can handle.

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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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