Labour top jobs go to air quality champions

Tom Watson, John McDonnell and Kerry McCarthy at forefront of new leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, finalised today (September 14)

Bristol West MP Kerry McCarthy has been appointed Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, as a number of top jobs in the Party’s shadow cabinet today (September 14) went to figures involved in championing air quality.

Labour's new Shadow Environment Secretary, Kerry McCarthy, speaking ahead of a bill reading last week (photo: Thom Undrell)

Labour’s new Shadow Environment Secretary, Kerry McCarthy, speaking ahead of a bill reading last week (photo: Thom Undrell)

Ms McCarthy will take on responsibility for air quality in Labour as the new shadow Defra secretary in her first front bench role, having been elected to parliament in 2005. She takes over the role from Maria Eagle, who has moved take up the role of Shadow Defence Secretary.

Ms McCarthy will work alongside Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North. He remains as Shadow Environment Minister, and today slammed Defra’s recently launched UK air quality plan as “hollow”.

Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected as the Labour Party’s new leader with 59% of the vote on Saturday (September 12), has previously said he will “put forward plans to tackle the air pollution crisis that particularly blights our big cities that show cleaner air provision is not just possible but achievable”.

During his leadership campaign, Mr Corbyn made 10 pledges on energy and the environment, including: “Cleaner air – tackling the air pollution crisis in our big cities and committing to full independent public inquiry into levels of air pollution”.

And, Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign coordinator, Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell — who has been a vocal supporter of the Campaign for an Air Pollution Public Inquiry (see story) — was yesterday (September 13) announced as Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.

Also elected at the weekend to serve as Labour’s deputy leader was MP for West Bromwich, Tom Watson, who in July launched a petition calling for a new Clean Air Act (see story).

Meanwhile, other appointments to Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet include veteran Hemsworth MP John Trickett, who will take over as Shadow Communities Secretary as well as taking on the role of Shadow Minister for Constitutional Convention.

Heidi Alexander, the MP for Lewisham East, takes over the health brief from Andy Burnham. She served previously as the Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to shadow Defra minister Mary Creagh after being elected to the Commons in 2010, before becoming Opposition Whip and Shadow Minister for London.

Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, takes over as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in what is her first front bench role since being elected to parliament in 2010. Ms Nandy has previously been touted as a potential successor to Mr Corbyn as Labour leader.

Jeremy Corbyn

Another of the new Labour leader’s environmental pledges is for “an international approach — support internationally agreed, universal standards of regulation of emissions and pollution” — which would likely include European Union air quality laws, which are currently being re-drafted.

Mr Corbyn’s website also states that “we have done much to improve recycling rates, cut emissions and make out air cleaner” but that “we must continue to do more”.

Furthermore, the website states: “Environmentally friendly transport encourages people to leave their cars at home, and central government’s support for the new East London Line and High Speed rail is paying off, as is the Congestion Charge.”

Defra’s ‘hollow’ plans

Mr Corbyn’s election win on Saturday coincided with Defra’s launch of a consultation on its draft new air quality plan for the UK to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits.

Campaigners criticised Defra’s decision to launch the consultation on the same day as Labour’s new leader was announced, claiming that the Department had “buried” the announcement (see story).

And, today Labour’s shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner also slammed Defra’s plans as “hollow”, criticising the Department for “passing the buck” onto local authorities.

Mr Gardiner said:

“New figures have revealed that more than 50,000 people are dying each year because of our polluted air yet the government announced in a written statement today that they plan to do nothing at all. They are passing the buck to local authorities but failing to provide the necessary resources to solve the problem.

“The government have disregarded the Supreme Court judgment, which ordered them to take action to clean up our towns and cities. I am calling on the government to announce a national plan for ultra-low emissions zones and a national strategy to clean up the buses and trucks that are responsible for a huge share of air pollution. Until the government takes its responsibility seriously tens of thousands of people will continue to die unnecessarily every year.”


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