Support for George Osborne continues to fall away

The CBI chief, John Cridland, and the Pimco MD, Bill Gross, are the latest figures to stress the urg

First, it was the IMF that deserted George Osborne. Now, it's the CBI and the founder of the world's biggest bond fund.

John Cridland, the CBI chief, argued in a recent interview that Osborne needs to "step up a gear" and deliver a growth plan for 2012 before it is too late. The CBI is also apparently about to scale back its growth forecast for 2011.

"Times have got tougher and we need more action. It's time to get moving; extra gear, more urgency, more action," said Cridland. "It's no good having a growth review focusing on five years' time; we ain't got five years. It's about growth over the next 12 months," he claimed colourfully in an interview in the Financial Times on 5 September. Dead on.

Cridland and I were on the Today programme a little while ago, discussing what could be done to stimulate growth and he seemed an entirely sensible and honourable man. In his interview today, Cridland expressed support for stoking up infrastructure spending in transport, power stations and housing; which is clearly a good idea and I will definitely back him on that. I'm also extremely pleased that, today, Cridland has come out in support of my suggestion that the government should cut National Insurance contributions for employers hiring young people. I am happy to back him on this. The hundreds of thousands of unemployed youngsters are also grateful. Thanks John. These are good ideas that will get the economy moving, although I don't support his view that the 50p tax rate should be scrapped. That would increase inequality and simply look so unfair to those who are struggling to survive in this awful recession. Relative things matter.

Then, in an interview in the Times on 5 September, the managing director of Pimco, Bill Gross, argued that:

The economy in the UK is worse off than it was when the plan was developed, so there should be at a minimum fine-tuning and perhaps re-routing of the plan . . . the problem becomes if it is too quick and swift and leads to an economic contraction, which it appears close to doing in the UK. Bond investors obviously want not just low inflation but some type of positive growth. An economy that doesn't grow, like Japan, ultimately can't resolve its debt crisis, either.

I do recall that long list of people that Osborne was so pleased to trot out, saying that everyone supported him. Those who didn't, he claimed, were "deficit deniers". Where are his supporters now? Long gone as the economy tanks.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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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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