David Cameron's new world order

Security, cyberattacks and an end to the sofa of spin

David Cameron stood in front of a vast map of the world at Chatham House this morning. And in his new vision, he will be at the centre of it. The Tory leader outlined plans to set up a National Security Council, lopping bits off the MoD, Foreign Office and DfFID budgets to create a joint, "joined-up" approach that would include a "war cabinet" for Afghanistan.

There was a fair amount of policy (and he had Liam Fox, Pauline Neville-Jones and Chris Grayling lined up to boost him on that front), but there was a lot of politics, too. Of particular concern appeared to be the furniture of government:

We will end the culture of spin by making sure that decisions about national security are taken formally, not on the sofa, but round a table, and with all the right people sitting round the table.

Cameron, clearly enamoured by the table, made a series of unsubtle if timely digs at New Labour foreign policy, particularly on Iraq, after Alastair Campbell's appearance at the Iraq inquiry this week.

If you hire responsible people, people you really trust, who want to lift politics up, not stoop down to its lowest level, then you have your best guarantee against dodgy dossiers.

Strangely mimicking the language of Sarah Palin, he also referred repeatedly to the loss of "trust" in the "system", and promised a higher style of politics, a commitment to planning to avoid catastrophes such as the aftermath of Iraq, and a respect for the institutions of government. But his key point, about the "joined-up" approach, will be ruinous for most organisations working to promote development. As Oxfam said in a statement released shortly after the event:

Removing aid from the poorest people and using it for military goals rather than tackling poverty would be a big step backwards and would undermine the UK's leadership role on international development.

Cameron can expect a fight from NGOs if he tries to push all the government's development efforts into mopping up after costly wars. He promised to maintain a 0.7 per cent share of gross national income for development spending. But, as Oxfam's response shows, if this simply means taking funds away from current development projects to support his security strategy, it will be deeply unpopular.

The Tory leader did a speed tour round his other priorities -- cybersecurity, civil liberties and social cohesion. But he didn't stick around. After responding vaguely to questions about Conservative engagement with the EU and the future of the Met (and usually deferring to Neville-Jones or Fox), Cameron departed to address the Women's Institute in Chipping Norton. You're late for the Women's Institute "at your peril", he quipped, to much mirth from the gathered suits.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496