Crisis at the Guardian

Parent company GNM is losing £100,000 a day but the Observer is set to survive

The revelation that losses at Guardian News & Media (GNM) are running at £100,000 a day has heightened the sense of crisis at the company and compulsory redundancies are now a serious prospect.

In an internal memo to staff on Monday, Tim Brooks, managing director of GNM, described the current losses as "unsustainable".

"We are looking at everything -- literally everything -- that we do, to see how we can economise, and we will do whatever we can to keep the impact on staff to a minimum. However, because the biggest portion of our costs is people's salaries, we have to review staffing levels," he said.

Brooks previously offered staff this jaunty advice: "It is more important than ever, at times like this, to keep work in perspective. So the other thing I ask you is this. Take the dog for a walk; take the kids for a swim; retune that engine; reread Jane Austen; buy in the popcorn and have a West Wing box-set weekend on the sofa -- please make sure you remember to do whatever it is that allows you to keep a clear head, and shake off the tensions of work."

Guardian journalists increasingly fear that editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger's hubristic ambition to transform GNM into the "world's leading liberal voice" has put the future of the paper itself in peril. The risk is that by the time a sustainable business model for free internet content emerges, as Chris Anderson, author of Free: the Future of a Radical Price (yours for £18.99), believes it will, the Guardian will have been destroyed.

Guardian Media Group, which reported pre-tax losses of £89.9m in July, still refuses to rule out closing the Observer in a bid to stem the losses.

But for now it seems likely that the company will opt instead for full integration of the two titles, in effect transforming the Observer into a Sunday Guardian. The move could sound the death knell for the Observer's popular monthly supplements and its stand-alone business section.

It is also no exaggeration to say that the Guardian faces a political crisis at the next election as it decides which party to endorse. It cannot credibly endorse Labour so long as Gordon Brown remains leader (as I expect he will), having called on the party to force him out.

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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