"I agree with Harriet"

A debate between senior female politicians shows Labour and the Lib Dems are close on the policies a

It was nice to see some women taking part in the election campaign on issues other than their taste in shoes or choice of husband. Even if it was a bit of a shame that almost no men were in the audience at last night's Fawcett Society debate to hear what Harriet Harman, Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone had to say.

There wasn't much sign of Labour hostility towards the Liberal Democrats. Nobody laughed harder at Featherstone's jokes ("my husband went off with someone younger, and less attractive") than Harman, who also made a few well-received appeals to her Lib Dem counterpart over the shared ground on policies that specifically affect women and sets the two parties apart from the Tories. And there's plenty of it. On policies like funding for rape crisis centres and the Conservative proposal for a married couples' tax break, Labour and the Lib Dems have much more in common than they do to differentiate them. In these areas, it's often the details - whether equal pay audits should apply to companies with over 100 employees (Lib Dems), or over 250 (Labour), for example - which are the dividing line.

Harman was on fighting form - the opening salvo she stood to deliver even included a rallying, if slightly toe-curling, cry of "sisters!" - and almost all of her attacks were directed at May. Her challenge on the married tax allowance was particularly stinging: "It's back to basics in Converse trainers, isn't it, Theresa?" Had it been imposed on her by the men in her party, or did she really support a tax break which would exclude single mothers like Featherstone, as well as widows and married women who work? May confirmed that she did - but it took her a while to say so.

But the most telling exchange was over women's representation in parliament. Harman could have challenged both of the other panellists, but instead she focused on the Conservatives. When she became an MP in 1982, she said, Labour had 10 female MPs and the Tories had 13. Now Labour has 94 - and the Tories? Eighteen. Hadn't the Tories failed women by refusing all-women shortlists in safe seats like East Surrey - which subsequently returned a male candidate? May responded that while Sam Gyimah is a male candidate, he's an ethnic minority male candidate. "We think that's important as well," she said brightly. Strangely, her apparent lumping of politicians into two categories - white men, and everybody else - didn't seem to impress the Fawcett audience too much.

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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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