At the London 2016 mayoral hustings organized in early March by The Green Alliance, Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan, Caroline Pidgeon, and Sian Berry were all asked: “What the next mayor can do to improve our capital?”
Such was the level of agreement about their collective Green policies that, about half way through the debate, I overheard a fellow audience member turn to her husband and ask (dryly enough that I assume it was not meant as a joke): “Which one is the Green candidate?”
The first thing you realise when they start to outline ‘their’ Green policies is that every one of them is singing from the same hymn sheet. Mostly the candidates seem to agree which are the most pressing environmental concerns for London, and, moreover, on how best to handle them.
Environmental issues, however quintessentially politicised they may become, are initially developed in the domain of statistical analysis and/or science. This is not to say that they are developed in a political vacuum.
While policy makers take huge swathes of their policy from charities and green think- tanks like the Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, or Keep Britain Tidy, the environmental groups in turn commission research by scientists.
By the time politicians actually come to speak about environmental issues, the terms of the debate have already been decided; it becomes simply a matter of who can reach the green-finish-line quickest, and for the least amount of taxpayers money.
Among the challenges put to the panel at the hustings were phasing “out all diesel black cabs and public hire vehicles by 2020,” create a “Clean Lungs Fund” to address air pollution around London schools, and “make the capital a world leading solar city” with around 200,000 rooftop solar panels.
These suggestions were undersigned by a coalition of leading environmental groups such as WWF, National Trust, RSPB, Greenpeace, and Campaign for Better Transport.
At no point were any of the candidates questioned over the validity of their Eco-policy, except when Zac accused Sadiq of previously being in support of “extending the third runway in Heathrow” and “building on the green belt”.
In fact, Green candidate, Sian Berry’s major complaint of the night was that other candidates were stealing her policies. Recently, when I spoke to Berry while out on the campaign trail, she even went so far as to qualify her road traffic pollution policies by saying that “we need a new congestion charge” for West London, adding “everyone agrees about this, all the industry groups, all the business groups agree that congestion in London is starting to get out of control again.”
And it isn’t just their traffic policies that they all seem to agree on. Cycle lanes, chronic air pollution on London’s busy roads, HGVs and high emission buses and taxis all made an appearance at the Green Alliance hustings.
Although it is worth noting that the largest jeer of the night was reserved for Joanna Lumley’s £60 million “Garden Bridge,” which was only backed by Zac. And it is very revealing that the one policy issue raised which was not directly influenced by environmental research groups, charities, and activist groups was the only policy which resolutely divided the candidates.