Comment Plus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Breaking the electoral mould may not have a happy ending (Guardian)

The remarkable rise of the Lib Dems may not have a happy ending, writes Seumas Milne. It could lead to the elite stitch-up that is a national unity government.

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2. The Tories have a fortnight to save themselves from disaster (Daily Telegraph)

If David Cameron is not prime minister on or soon after May 7, the Tory party will turn on him, warns Benedict Brogan. To avoid this fate, Cameron must better explain to the public why a hung parliament would be a disaster.

3. Brown looks ever more like King Lear (Independent)

In tonight's debate the focus will be on Cameron and Clegg, but it is Brown who needs to give the performance of his life, says Steve Richards.Labour's shapeless campaign has led to an extraordinary shift against the party.

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4. A hung parliament would be a tragedy for Britain (Financial Times)

The uncertainty of a hung parliament would kill the economic recovery, warns Ken Clarke. A period of weak government would do nothing to improve the reputation of our political system.

5. The 'no win' nightmare (Sun)

Warming to the same theme, Trevor Kavanagh warns that a hung parliament would lead to economic disaster. Worse, by demanding Brown's head, Nick Clegg could leave the country with another unelected Labour prime minister.

6. Only the Lib Dems listen to Britain (Guardian)

But elsewhere, Nick Clegg says that only the Lib Dems can seize the opportunity for fundamental reform. Labour seems to have given up trying and the Tories only offer the illusion of change.

7. Our foreign aid target is absurd and outdated (Times)

The pledge by all three parties to raise aid spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP makes no sense, says Bronwen Maddox. It says nothing about how much aid the poorest really need and distracts attention away from the need for good government.

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8. 9½ vital questions for our would-be leaders on Britain's role in the world (Guardian)

With the one big exception of Europe, the foreign policy differences between the three parties are astonishingly small, writes Timothy Garton Ash. But all the leaders need to clarify what they think Britain's role in the world should be.

9. Let Letwin Be Letwin (Times)

Were Oliver Letwin to lose his seat to the Lib Dems he would be much missed, says a Times leader. It was he who provided the intellectual backbone to modern conservatism.

10. Fly less and we'll all be happier (Independent)

The next government must demonstrate how we can all fly less and stay competitive, says Peter Lockley.

 

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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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