Montage by Dan Murrell
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Zahawi’s horse has bolted

Plus: The last word (for a while) on Ed Miliband's appearance.

Closing the stable door after the heating bill bolted, Nadhim Zahawi won’t be left short of a few bob after repaying a wrongly claimed spare groom subsidy. As well as a country estate with a hitherto taxpayer-fuelled riding school attached, Zahawi owns a £5m Putney home and three London flats he rents out. No wonder he’s hosting a parliamentary reception on 17 December so that the British Property Federation can extol the profits to be banked from letting to students.

Labour’s awkward squad punctuate barracking of Tories with pranks. Thus John Cryer found Ian Mearns’s hand in his pocket trying to hold him down when called at Prime Minister’s Questions. Cryer’s pockets have been used before against him. The ex-miner Ronnie Campbell once passed a packet of Fisherman’s Friends lozenges down the line of benches. When they didn’t reappear, Campbell, easygoing until riled, demanded their return. Ian Lavery, another former pitman, suggested he look in Cryer’s pocket where an MP had hidden Campbell’s sweets. Sometimes, the chamber is like a rowdy school assembly.

Ministers recall with a vengeance the smallest indignities when dumped or shuffled off to fresh pastures. Bath bon viveur Don Foster remembers with a curled lip a “Dear Donald” letter from a faceless bureaucrat when Nick Clegg flipped him to deputy chief whip from communities and town halls. The departed department’s uncivil servant warned the affable Lib Dem that he’d signed a confidentiality agreement so he must stay schtum, and that failure to return a laptop to the ministry could result in prosecution. A thank-you note from Eric Pickles might’ve been nice.

An update on last week’s item that Yvette Cooper revealed a royal protection officer mistook her insignificant other, Ed Balls, for Nick Griffin of BNP notoriety. I’m told Ed B recounted a similar tale himself on the rubber chicken circuit. Except in the shadow chancellor’s version he is mistaken for Griffin at a dinner for the Chief Rabbi. That means the confusion must be kosher.

The right-whinge press will kick itself. The anti-union lot never miss an opportunity to portray Red Ed in the pocket of Red Len. So savour the disappointment of Tory editors at missing Miliband visiting Esher Place, the nothing’s-too-good-for-theworkers education centre of McCluskey’s Unite for a Labour NEC away day. The Milimites were mightily chuffed they slipped their man in and out undetected.

And finally . . .what may be my last word for a while on Miliband’s appearance. His office is split over whether the leader should button or unbutton his jacket when walking for TV cameras. I vote for openness.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The New Exodus

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496