No one likes Ed Miliband. But he doesn't care.

Those wanting definition from Ed Miliband will have to wait no longer

Followers of Millwall football club have a favourite chant. "No one likes us", they sing, "but we don't care". It is defiant. Aggressive. Invariably uttered in support of a losing cause.

This week's Labour conference has emitted a similar roar. Ed Ball's unwavering defence of the economic agenda rejected so overwhelmingly at the last election. Ivan Lewis' bravura assault on the media barely hours before they passed judgment on his leader.

The political rule book was being torn up in front of our eyes, even before Ed Miliband arrived on stage. He did so with the opinion polls snapping at his heels and the electorate uncertain of his agenda, or even his identity. No matter. "We just can't get enough", was the tune pumped out to delegates in the minutes before he strode onto the stage. You may not like Ed Miliband. But we don't care.

The old game plan for Labour in opposition was clear. Ingratiate yourself with big business. Embrace aspiration. Rub shoulders easily with the establishment. Tony Blair wanted everyone to like him, and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure they did.

Ed Miliband rose. He was speaking from Liverpool; "Labour Liverpool". Large swathes of the country had turned blue 18 months ago. Not Liverpool. Liverpool likes Labour. It doesn't care.

His predecessors had abided by the golden rule of British politics. Don't mess with Rupert Murdoch. Not Ed. "I'm going to do things my own way", he intoned; "Nobody ever changed anything on the basis of consensus. Or wanting to be liked".

The nation had been rent asunder by riots. David Cameron had threatened to call in the army, fire plastic bullets, bring out the water cannon. The polls showed most people supported him. But not Ed. "I'm not with the Prime Minister", he said, "I will never write off whole parts of the country by calling them sick". People may want rioters thrown out of their council houses. Ed doesn't care.

New Labour had stood alongside vested interests. Ed wouldn't. The energy companies. The banks. Fred Goodwin. Ed doesn't like them. And he doesn't care who knows it.

His predecessors had kept their hands off big business. No longer. "When I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, what we celebrate will be in the service of Britain's producers", he warned, "And don't let anyone tell you that is the anti-business choice". He'd be a hands on Prime Minister. Business may not like it. By why should he care? "I will take on vested interests wherever they are because that is how we defend the public interest".

People have been calling for definition from Ed Miliband. Today they got it. They have been calling for a narrative. From now on, they will be able to read it. They have been demanding strategy. From today they will be able to follow it.

New Labour's brand of neo-liberal conservatism has been formally buried. Liberal, socially progressive interventionism is the new way. The Ed Miliband way.

"I am not Tony Blair" he said. The audience cheered. The rest of the country used to like Tony Blair. So what. Ed Miliband doesn't care.

Photo: Getty
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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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