Tory bloggers split over TV debate

Will it be a lifeline for Gordon Brown or a chance for David Cameron to shine?

Yesterday, Gordon Brown became Britain's first* Prime Minister to agree to go head-to-head with other party leaders in three televised election debates. The announcement has prompted a flurry of reactions from Tory bloggers, among others.

They've pretty much placed themselves in two camps, with one side calling the debates a bad idea for David Cameron.

Over at ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie writes:

I am disappointed . . . Heading for a massive defeat, these debates are a lifeline for Gordon Brown.

Elswhere, PoliticalBetting's Mike Smithson and Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News agree with Montgomerie's assessment, suggesting that David Cameron has the most to lose. Framing the decision to enter the debates as a strategic move by the Labour camp, Gibbon says:

It gives the Liberal Democrats one hell of a leg-up, and that's high in Labour's calculations (they want the Lib Dems to do well against the Tories to limit Tory gains) but not as high as the fundamental point: Labour strategists think Gordon Brown might just make David Cameron look naive, not versed in the ways of the world and not a man to hold the tiller in dangerous times.

And Smithson says:

The big loser could possibly be David Cameron who, in my view, has made a seriously bad decision.

In the other camp, Iain Dale has expressed delight at the news and writes that the Conservatives should have more faith in their leader.

Of course these debates are risky for David Cameron. He will remember that in the head to heads with David Davis during the leadership contest he never really came out on top. But I have little fear of that happening again. Conservatives ought to have confidence in David Cameron's ability to approach these debates in the right way.

Yet most, if not all, agreed that Clegg would emerge as the debates' biggest winner, just from being seen on the same platform as the two larger parties.

Put simply by Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics:

As for Nick Clegg, well, he'll just be delighted to get some attention.

* Technically, of course, John Major was the first prime minister to agree to a debate, but plans for a 1997 head-to-head ultimately failed due to disagreements over the format.

 

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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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