Satisfaction from coming second

The results in Ealing Southall and Sedgefield get better and better the more Mark Pack thinks about

So, another day, another pair of Parliamentary by-elections over, and – courtesy of Ealing Southall in particular - an extra large supply of campaign anecdotes to add to my store. But what does it all mean?

Clearly Labour members and supporters will like having held both seats, but with their majorities halved in both the results rather puncture the Brown Bounce hyperbole about him taking back all the support Labour lost to the Liberal Democrats.

The fall in Labour’s support in Ealing Southall is particularly interesting, because this is just the sort of seat where the Liberal Democrats have performed poorly in the past, but got a respectable second in 2005 fuelled largely by the Iraq war. In other words, it is just the sort of seat where a new look Gordon Brown Labour party, hoping to leave its troubles behind, should be making up previously lost ground.

That the Liberal Democrats actually made further advances is a promising sign for the next general election being one of more gains from Labour rather than one of just trying to cling on to what we’ve already got.

Beginning to pick over the electoral figures, it looks as if we did very well in the Ealing part of the constituency and really rather less so in Southall. This split shows that the party still has work to do in order to build up levels of support amongst particular communities, though the party’s overall ability to win votes from ethnic minority communities has been transformed compared with – for example – the 2000 by-election in Tottenham.

I worked on that campaign, and am struck by the pleasing contrast with how the Ealing campaign had a much more diverse team of helpers, evidenced from the simplest signs in photographs of people helping in HQ through to the practical benefits of being able to produce translations in a wide-range of languages.

Judging the party’s mode from messages received by email at the Ealing and national party HQs so far today, members and supporters are pretty cheerful about the results. Indeed, as the dust has started to settle as today has worn on, and I’ve started catching up on sleep and media coverage, the results in Ealing and Sedgefield are steadily getting (even) better in my mind as it is becoming clear that the brace of second places – and in particular the flop of the much-hyped Tory Ealing Southall campaign – is causing large scale ructions in the Conservative party. Conservative Home [http://www.conservativehome.blogs.com/] is a fun read at the moment!

Aside from the internal ructions, the Conservatives are likely to have also done themselves severe damage with the media, for once again they suckered some journalists into reporting a Labour – Lib Dem contest as if it was really a Labour – Tory one. With a bit of luck, a few more journalists will finally be rather more wise to the “pssst, want some dodgy postal vote figures?” type wheezes, especially as this was a repeat of what was done in Leicester South – where again there were reports of the postal votes showing the Lib Dems out of it, but when the votes were counted Tories finished third.

All in all then, whilst winning is always best, the results in Sedgefield and Ealing are cause for satisfaction amongst Liberal Democrats. Two good sets of swings, two good second places and two other parties whose results raise serious questions about their future.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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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.

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