Barack Obama attacks David Cameron. Well, almost

Have you seen his ally John Podesta’s critique of the Tories’ EU policy?

Can those of you who have been seduced by David Cameron's claim to be a "progressive Conservative", in charge of a "modern" Tory party, explain to me why it is that Dave allied his party in Europe with a bunch of "nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes" (to borrow a line from St Nick of Clegg) that he wouldn't be caught dead with here in the UK? It is the one question David Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne et al refuse to answer.

And, speaking from personal experience, I note that Tory apologists get very upset whenever anyone even mentions the EPP/ECR issue. The truth hurts, I suppose. But what really drives them nuts (or at least nuttier than they already are!) is if you point out how upset the Obama administration is with the new Tory alliances in Europe, or if you highlight the concerns that have been expressed in private by senior US officials.

In fact, my colleague James Macintyre has received a great deal of flak in the blogosphere -- and has been smeared by a CCHQ press officer -- for daring to report President Obama's alleged verdict on Cameron after meeting the Conservative leader in 2008: "What a lightweight!" (Dare I remind you, reader, that the Cameron-supporting Sun also reported that the US president told an aide, after meeting Blair, Brown and Cameron: "Tony Blair: Sizzle and substance. Gordon Brown: Substance. David Cameron: Sizzle"?)

James got even more abuse when he started to dig deeper into the Tories' love-in with far-right Poles, Czech climate-change deniers and Latvian admirers of the Waffen SS -- and the negative reaction such links unsurprisingly elicited inside the Obama administration.

From James's column in the New Statesman, 6 August 2009:

Most recently, Obama's aides have been alarmed by Cameron's European alliance with Michal Kaminski, a former member of the neo-Nazi National Revival of Poland (NOP) party. I have learned that a 29 July column by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian -- echoing my own report of Jewish leaders' concerns over Kaminski in last week's NS -- has been circulated inside the Obama camp. One Democratic Party source close to the administration confirmed to me: "Your assumptions about the beliefs of Obama's foreign policy team are correct -- there are concerns about Cameron among top members of the team."

Nine months on, if anyone had any doubts about the accuracy of James's reporting, then John Podesta's latest piece on the website of his think tank, the Centre for American Progress, should put them to bed.

John who? John Podesta, one of the most influential Democrats in Washington, DC and one of the few strategists close to, and trusted by, both the Obama and Clinton camps. He served as chief of staff under Bill Clinton (1998-2001) and as co-chair of Obama's transition team (between the election in November 2008 and the inauguration in January 2009). If anyone knows what's going on inside Obama's White House and Hillary's state department, it's Podesta.

Here is his damning critique of Cameron, the Conservatives and their EU allies:

Worryingly, under David Cameron's leadership, the Conservative Party's traditional Euro-skepticism has become more extreme. Consider, for example, his decision to have Conservative members leave the European People's Party -- the mainstream center-right grouping within the European Parliament that includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP -- to form a new parliamentary group with a maverick collection of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic members of the European Parliament. Beyond the obvious political symbolism this entails -- it is hardly good for Britain's prestige when its European parliamentarians sit with those who have argued the election of a black US president hails the end of civilization -- the decision also illustrates Cameron's willingness to forgo political influence to placate extreme elements of his own party.

The Conservatives are now very likely to punch below their weight in European debates, leaving others to shape the future direction of the EU. Moreover, pledging to "repatriate" powers to Britain -- a commitment that will require the unanimous consent of all 27 EU governments -- Cameron's Conservatives look set to expend what little influence they will have on counterproductive and unachievable measures rather than positive steps forward.

. . . American hopes for a more dynamic and equal European partner are still much less likely to be realized if Britain is on the fringes of the debate about the future of the union.

. . . On both climate and security, Cameron's Conservatives may have respectable views and policies. What is now in question is whether they will have the political heft in Europe to be an effective ally of the United States. It's a question that today is making the Washington policymaking community more than a little anxious.

The case for the prosecution rests, m'lord. Bring on the Tory trolls . . .

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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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