We can't drive away from global warming

The mayoral candidates need to consider global warming when discussing the congestion and emission c

Car ads sell us a particularly seductive modern day fantasy. We are promised open roads cutting through sweeping panoramic landscapes, speed, freedom, and excitement.

But for those of us who find ourselves inching along in snarled up traffic, the lack of speed isn’t the only difference between the dream and the reality of modern day motoring. Road transport accounts for about a fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions – and research shows using greener cars could be the fastest way to slash this. Therefore moves by national and local government to encourage drivers to use smarter cars – such as the Mayor of London’s proposal to increase the congestion charge to £25 for gas-guzzlers - are welcome.

Ken Livingstone’s proposal has infuriated Porsche, which has launched a legal challenge against what it brands a ‘disproportionate’ measure. Of the 53 types of car that Porsche sells in the UK, 51 would pay the higher charge. In a document seen by the Daily Telegraph, the car manufacturer estimates its sales would fall by 11 per cent if the higher charge came in.

The London congestion charge isn’t the only climate-changing initiative that Porsche opposes. Along with the rest of the car industry, Porsche - which boasts of “protecting the environment to the highest degree” - is fighting new targets to reduce pollution from new vehicles by increasing their fuel efficiency. Could the bottom line be concentrating their minds?

Of course, if Ken doesn’t get elected as Mayor of London on 1 May then Porsche’s London legal challenge will vanish into thin air. Both Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick would drop the proposed gas-guzzler charge.

It’s telling, though, that neither of them would abolish the congestion charge in the original central London zone, pledging only to reopen consultation on the more recent extension into west London. Boris’s promise to look at introducing a flexible pricing system to target the worst congestion seems sensible – until you consider that many of the capital’s top congestion hot-spots are actually in outer London.

Brian Paddick’s plan to introduce a London-wide charge for all cars entering London from outside the city are certainly ambitious, but it would need top notch monitoring technology and drastic negotiations with train and bus operators to ensure the infrastructure is in place to shuttle a high volume of incomers into the capital and out again.

The Lib Dem and Tory candidates have also pledged to re-phase traffic lights to get traffic moving faster – a move which neither takes account of those of us trying to cross the road on foot nor tackles the central problem of the sheer volume of traffic on London’s roads.

The congestion charge is not perfect, but it’s a vital tool that, now it is in place, can be fine tuned and perfected in time. And it is crucial in sending the message to the rest of the world that global warming is not something any of us can simply drive away from in a cloud of dust.

Tony Bosworth is the transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times