Miliband sharpens his message

The five key points from Miliband's Today programme interview this morning.

Ed Miliband's interview on the Today programme this morning was an important coda to yesterday's speech. Here are five points that jumped out at me.

1. The centre ground has moved itself

I've previously written that Miliband is attempting to shift the centre ground to the left, just as Thatcher shifted it to the right. But it's now clear that he believes the centre has moved itself. He told Jim Naughtie: "We are going to be firmly in the middle ground of politics, but the middle ground is changing.

"The idea that you shouldn't have responsibility at the top of society - it is not a left-wing thing to say that there should be responsibility. It is absolutely in the middle ground."

I think Miliband is right but there's no guarantee that Labour will be the beneficiary of this leftwards shift.

2. A new age of state activism

Miliband rejects the policy defeatism of the last decade, the belief that, in Thatcher's words, "you can't buck the market". He vowed that free markets would no longer "land from outer space" and that the state would change the rules to encourage better practice. His pledge that government contracts would only be given to firms that hire apprentices is the clearest example of this.

Rather than distinguishing between good companies and bad companies as he did yesterday (a stance that smacks of the government "picking winners"), Miliband now emphasises that he is talking about "different business practices."

In a better soundbite than any he delivered yesterday, he said that he was "not anti business" but "anti business as usual."

3. Agreement with Vince Cable

After his rhetorical barbs against Nick Clegg, Miliband noted a rare point of agreement with a Lib Dem minister. He said he supported Vince Cable's attempts to control executive pay: "I agree with some of what he said that, for example, there should be far greater transparency about what companies do, that shareholders should vote on remuneration packages before they are agreed."

4. The limits of public spending

In an admission that was missing from yesterday's speech, Miliband said that social justice would not be achieved through higher public spending, a clear dividing line with Gordon Brown.

"For the Labour Party ... spending is not going to be the way that we achieve social justice in the next decade," he said. "[U]nless you reform our economy, unless we find ways of tackling those issues, unless you get that political economy right we're not going to get the change we want to see."

The biggest problem is that 11 million low-to-middle earners have seen no rise in their real incomes since 2003, as less of what our economy produces has been paid out in wages - and more in profits. The diagnosis is clear but the prescription is not. In time, Miliband will have to offer solutions.

5. Substance will win out

In response to the focus group finding that voters see him as "weird" (discussed by Jonathan Freedland in his column today), Miliband insisted that substance would win out over style. "[T]he times are too serious, the issues are too grave, for us to say well, you know ... it's not about substance, it is about substance. It is absolutely about substance, the problems our country faces are so serious that actually the substance matters."

One was reminded of Gordon Brown's assertion that he was "a serious man for serious times". In an age of presidential politics, Miliband's wager is that his unflashy brand of social democracy will prevail. His fate - and that of Labour - depends on him being right.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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