Who Da Man . . .Date

The accusation that this government lacks a mandate is frequently thrown around – but what does it a

A new prime minister walked in to Downing Street on less than 50 per cent of the vote. A predecessor went on the TV and suggested he "do nothing hasty, sit down have a cup of tea and a think". He did the opposite. Before the door had been shut at No.10, he had implemented the first new policy. Swift, radical, decisive.

He didn't take it to parliament for approval. It wasn't in his party manifesto. The action he took would affect every lender, saver, pension holder, every private-sector employer. It probably deserved at least consultation, further consideration – perhaps, dare I suggest, a plan B to this audacious and radical policy shift.

The year was 1997; the PM Tony Blair; the policy a long-held Lib Dem belief that the Bank of England should be made independent; the predecessor James Callaghan.

Did he have a mandate to do that? Well, he had a significant majority. Did that mean he had a mandate to do something that would affect so many, having failed to fight for it in the election? Well, probably not, but I don't remember an outcry at the time. Instead, it was perceived as a stroke of genius. Indeed, recent Labour memoirs tussle to prove whose idea it was in the first place.

So what about now? Is there a mandate for dealing with the structural deficit? Every time I was on air during the election, I whinged about the danger the three main parties were facing because of their critical lack of detail on dealing with the structural deficit. The result would inevitably be a lack of "mandate". In various studios, senior tacticians from the other parties pointed out that any mention of how specifically to deal with the structural deficit would be electoral suicide. And of course, sadly, they were right.

The small crumb of comfort that I could find was that the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the Lib Dems were the "least worst" when it came to lack of detail on how they would cut.

All three parties were united in the same message. Which was to halve the structural deficit. As the chancellor, George Osborne, writes in the Guardian today:

The Labour leadership claims it would stick to Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit in four years, but day after day it opposes the spending cuts that requires. The Darling plan contains £14bn of cuts this coming financial year – just £2bn less than our plan. Yet with just five weeks to go until April we know everything about the cuts Labour opposes but nothing about the cuts it supports.

The question then became one of pace, but it was never about scale.

When I hear the regular accusation about lack of a mandate, I have some sympathy. No, really – I do. But that raises several questions. How is it defined? Is a written constitution the only way of defining it? Until a government is elected with over 50 per cent of the vote, does it lack a mandate? Is a simple parliamentary majority sufficient? Or do we need a better voting system to reflect people's wishes more accurately?

In Blair's autobiography, he struggled with definitions of mandate following the 2005 general election:

I couldn't get the argument heard . . . It found insufficient echo among other Labour speakers and very little within the media. The result was a campaign and mandate that meant different things to different people. I was completely certain: the manifesto and the mandate was one for New Labour, but the absence of serious policy discussion meant there was no sense of that being so.

For the last few weeks, I have tweeted asking for definitions of mandate. Replies have come back saying predominantly "not what this government is doing", or "the scale of reform and the pace of change do not have any support'. But equally, I would argue that what is clear is that there was absolutely no mandate for keeping Labour in power.

I guess the most useful response so far was that "it is a date between two men".

Any better offers? Or is this going to be a much-used, much-misunderstood phrase over the next few years?

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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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