Tag Archives: Sadiq Khan

Radical action now is the only sensible option

Radical action now is the only sensible option
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 February 2018

Today the UK faces a number of serious and interlinked threats to the public’s health and future wellbeing. Tinkering around the edges, gradual reform or triangulation-style politics are simply no longer commensurate with the challenges bearing down on us. Radical action – implemented right now – is the only realistic option.

Research consistently shows the UK has one of the highest levels of inequality – and one of the lowest levels of social mobility – in Western Europe. However, last year the Guardian reported the government’s own Social Mobility Commission found “policies have failed to significantly reduce inequality between rich and poor despite two decades of interventions by successive governments”. Headed by former Labour MP Alan Milburn, the study noted there had been “too little” progress since 1997, with many policies implemented in the past no longer fit for purpose. The study warned “that without radical and urgent reform, the social and economic divisions in British society will widen, threatening community cohesion and economic prosperity”, noted the Guardian.

Pollution is also a significant problem, with around 40,000 deaths every year in the UK attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, according to a 2016 Royal College of Physicians report. In response, the government announced in July that the UK will ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. London mayor Sadiq Khan criticised this measure, arguing Londoners needed action on pollution right now. But while Khan has introduced several important measures, including the roll out of an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the capital, in October the Commission on the Future of London’s Roads and Streets criticised Khan himself for not going far enough. The Green Party have also highlighted the hypocrisy of Khan talking a good game on “healthy streets” while backing the plan for the Silvertown Tunnel – that is, a new urban motorway – in east London.

Turning to climate change, the future is looking bleak. Last month a new forecast published by the Met Office assessed that annual global average temperature could reach 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels during the next five years – already breaking the hopeful goal of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Indeed, the United Nations news service recently noted “pledges made under the Paris Agreement are only a third of what is required by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change”.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, fleshed out the danger of climate chaos in 2014: “What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.”

What is required, according to the respected climate scientists Professor Kevin Anderson and Professor Alice Bows, is for the wealthier nations to immediately adopt a de-growth strategy – wholesale systems change on a far greater scale than the allied mobilisations that ‘won’ the Second World War.

So who should we look to for assistance in implementing the radical policies that will address these threats?

The re-designed Guardian newspaper sees itself, in the words of editor Katharine Viner, as the repository for “thoughtful, progressive… and challenging” thinking. However, it is important to remember the Guardian strongly opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become leader of the Labour Party, instead lending its support to New Labourite Yvette Cooper. Before and after Corbyn was elected, a string of Guardian columnists including Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Suzanne Moore and Martin Kettle, were let loose, spewing invective, half-truths and nonsensical arguments to undermine the Islington North MP and the movement behind him.

“The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists, from moderate right to moderate left – i.e. centre journalists – who, broadly speaking, like the status quo”, Tony Benn memorably wrote in his diaries. “They like the two-party system, with no real change. They’re quite happy to live under the aegis of the Americans and NATO… they are very critical of the left… they are just the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well.”

A Corbyn-led Labour Party winning the next election on the back of energised social movements offers the best chance for significant progressive change in my lifetime. But while it is essential to defend Corbyn from establishment attacks, those who wish to address the threats I’ve listed above need to understand they will almost certainly need to push beyond Corbynism in its current guise. If Corbyn and his core leadership team can be persuaded and/or pressured to be more radical, that’s great, but if not, then the grassroots needs to be prepared to go further to achieve change.

On the environment, though Corbyn’s Labour Party put forward many good proposals in their 2017 general election manifesto, Greenpeace noted “there are some important areas for improvement” including the party’s continuing promotion of North Sea oil and gas and its “cautious support” for airport expansion in south east England. More importantly, the Labour manifesto, like the Tory Party, championed economic growth – precisely the ideology and economic path that is propelling the planet over the climate cliff.

We desperately need radical, joined-up thinking. For example, a reduction in private car use and increased funding for public transport would have number of positive knock-on effects for society beyond helping to reduce carbon emissions: a reduction in air pollution; less noise and improved quality of sleep; fewer road deaths; safer streets meaning more people walking and cycling, leading to more people exercising and less obesity and depression. All of which would lead to a reduction in stress on the NHS.

This kind of holistic thinking has long been the mainstay of the Green Party who, let’s not forget, stood aside 30 candidates for another progressive candidate they thought had a better chance of winning the seat at the last general election. It is the Green Party who have been questioning the concept of economic growth and discussing, long before Labour, the idea of a Universal Basic Income and Land Value Tax. Last month Green MEP Molly Scott Cato suggested extending VAT to all processed and factory farmed meat to help combat climate change and encourage healthier eating habits.

Though Corbyn is riding high at the moment, joining forces with the Green Party would massively strengthen the movement that has made his leadership so successful.

As the title of Canadian author Naomi Klein’s generation shaking book about climate change and capitalism argues, the size and all-encompassing nature of the climate crisis “changes everything”.

“It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand”, she explains. “And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

You can follow Ian Sinclair on Twitter on @IanJSinclair.

Interview with Siân Berry, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate

Interview with Siân Berry, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
14 March 2016 

As the Green Party’s candidate for the London Mayoral elections on 5 May 2016, this is second time round for Siân Berry.

She first stood for mayor in 2008, coming fourth behind Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick – the highest place achieved by the Greens at the time. Impressively, Berry, now 41, also gained endorsements from the Observer and Independent newspapers and the Federation for Small Businesses.

Sitting down to chat to me around the corner from the Green Party’s offices in east London, Berry argues London has changed significantly in the last eight years. The Coalition and Conservative governments have created “a proper crisis” in the capital, she says. “Since 2010 the assault on ordinary people’s lives, the assault on council housing, the assault on people’s welfare benefits – the really horrible things that they’ve done really seem to target the most vulnerable people in society.”

“I think it is much more important now that we elect a campaigning mayor”, she continues. “Somebody who is going to be a real opposition to the government, who is really going to stick up for London and who isn’t going to just do whatever the government wants, and isn’t also going to be on the side of the big companies or the big developers.”

Berry also believes she has changed personally since 2008. “I’ve had a real range of different things I’ve tried and enjoyed”, she says, explaining she was part of a tech start-up, has written three books, worked for the Campaign for Better Transport and assisted with the union-run Sack Boris campaign during the 2012 mayoral race. Since 2014 she has also served as the local councillor for Highgate ward on Camden Borough Council.

She describes herself as a socialist – “a Bertrand Russell kind of socialist.”

“I’m quite utopian”, she clarifies. “I have quite a lot of trust in people. I like letting people run things for themselves. I’m not in any way authoritarian. If you look at the policies I’m putting forward for London, it’s all about having enormous faith in people to do things for themselves.”

Housing is one of the key policies the Greens are campaigning on, and Berry has an infectious, wonkish knowledge of the subject, animatedly listing a number of policies. A renter herself living in Tufnell Park, she notes rent levels “are a serious problem because even if people want to buy they have to rent first… and many people are using more than half their income to pay their rent.” She wants rent controls, and is also pushing for a Renter’s Union to be established. “People who privately rent are realising they need to stick together, they need to plan together, they have rights.” The union would be funded by City Hall but independent from it, she notes, and will create a central, Londonwide organisation for renters to organise and fight extortionate rents, rogue landlords and rip-off letting agents.

Along with backing the building of more council homes, supporting housing co-operatives and establishing a Community Homes Unit in City Hall, Berry opposes the government’s plans to knock down housing estates. She highlights research by Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson that found this so-called regeneration has reduced the total amount of social housing by 8,000 in the past decade. “We think it is better from a green point of view to keep the estates we have, to build on top of them, to infill, to work with the residents on how that can be done best for them.”

This housing policy would be paid, in part, by continuing the Olympic Precept (the extra tax Londoners paid to help fund the 2012 Games) and by raising Council Tax. Berry’s interest in realistically costing policies extends to transport and her proposal to completely flatten the zone structure so there is one cost for all journeys in London, like there is in New York City. “They have got my spreadsheets”, she quips, when I ask if her plans and budgets are supported by Transport for London, who has criticised the proposals put forward by Labour’s candidate Sadiq Khan.

Another significant change since 2008, I suggest to Berry, is the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Is she concerned this will negatively impact the Green vote in May? Berry, it turns out, is very excited by Jezza’s rise, seeing it as part of the same hopeful, democratising political forces that generated last year’s Green Party surge and the energetic Yes Campaign in Scotland. Is Khan part of the same movement? “It doesn’t feel like it”, she replies. “He feels like he is much more part of the old guard in Labour, who are a bit suspicious of the new people coming in and what they might want.”

“It really worries me that Sadiq Khan is going round saying he is going to be the most business friendly mayor ever when the mayor we currently have could not be more business friendly”, Berry says about the Member of Parliament for Tooting’s infamous interview with the Financial Times.

According to a report in Private Eye, Khan’s interest in big business also stretches to accepting over £92,000 in donations from property firms and developers since December 2014. “You can’t accuse people of anything really based on where they get donations from”, she notes, “but you’d think they wouldn’t give donations unless they thought there was an influence.”

In 2008 the Green Party recommended its voters give their second preference vote to Labour’s Ken Livingstone (the mayoral election is conducted under a Supplementary Vote system). However, Berry thinks it is unlikely the Greens will endorse Labour’s candidate this year, though the final decision will rest with London Green Party members in April. “I know Sadiq Khan is not making some people happy with some of the things he has been saying and doing. We’ve got some red lines. Like he is going round saying Gatwick Airport needs to be expanded. It is very hard for Greens to back someone who is that enthusiastic about airport expansion.”

Berry doesn’t just oppose airport expansion – one of her flagship proposals is to close City Airport in east London and use the space for new housing and businesses. Berry has also taken the time to support the thirteen Plane Stupid protestors who narrowly missed being jailed for temporarily closing a Heathrow runway in protest at the government’s expansion plans. “I support direct action at the point in which democracy has failed”, she says. “David Cameron couldn’t have made a clearer pledge not to expand Heathrow. And yet it is back on the table within a few years of him taking power. That’s very, very wrong. So they are right to do what they did, I think.” Her environmental credentials were given a further boost when Clean Air In London – which campaigns on the air pollution that research shows kills 9,500 people in the capital every year – recently scored her top out of all the candidates (Khan came fourth).

With Green membership in London quadrupling in the last four years, Berry is quietly confident she can maintain the record-breaking level of support Jenny Jones received as the Green mayoral candidate in 2012, when she finished in third place ahead of the Liberal Democrats. And as Berry is also first on the Londonwide list of Green hopefuls for the London Assembly in this election (the Greens currently have two Assembly members, both of whom are standing down), even if she doesn’t become mayor, Londoners will likely be seeing a lot more of her in the future.