Cruddas and Miliband set out their vision

Labour leadership hopeful and party intellectual rethink social democracy.

Fresh from his endorsement of David Miliband's candidacy for the Labour leadership in last week's New Statesman, the Parliamentary Labour Party's resident intellectual Jon Cruddas joins the front-runner in the race in the Guardian to set out what the two men call their "covenant with Britain".

Most of what they have to say will be familiar to New Statesman readers, especially those who read Maurice Glasman's recent guest piece for the magazine. Glasman, a political theorist close to Cruddas, argued that Labour succumbs to the temptation simply to dismiss Tory rhetoric about the "big society" as so much window-dressing for a neo-Thatcherite assault on the welfare state at its peril:

The Conservatives have seized Labour's language with their vision of a "big society" -- and not only its language but its history. By stressing mutual responsibility, commitment to place and neighbours and the centrality of relationships to a meaningful life, and by laying claim to the mutuals, co-operatives and local societies that built the labour movements, the coalition government is seizing Labour's future by stealing its inheritance.

For Glasman, the correct response to this raid on Labour's vocabulary is not to dismiss the big society, as Ed Miliband has done, as a "load of rubbish". Rather, he says, "Labour should assert its ownership of the language and practice of organised social action for the common good. Democracy all the way up and all the way down."

Cruddas and David Miliband echo this: "We let the Tories claim our language and traditions in their one-sided "big society", while allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as defenders of the 'big state'." And, in a phrase that occurred in Miliband's Keir Hardie Lecture delivered in July, which is by far the most comprehensive and ambitious statement of fundamental values and political vision to have been made by any of the five candidates for the leadership, the two men offer this succinct assessment of the failings of the New Labour years: "In government we were too hands-off with the market and too hands-on with the state."

The piece also contains the outline of a psephological and sociological analysis of the reasons for Labour's defeat in May. As Sunder Katwala has pointed out, the argument between David and Ed Miliband concerns not only the shape of a renewed social democracy (the legacy of Anthony Crosland, you might say), but also electoral strategy. Katwala distinguishes the approaches of the two brothers as follows:

It is fair to say that the thrust of the Ed Miliband campaign's political argument was that New Labour had failed to realise how much its DE vote had slumped, and the impact of that on vote share and seats. The David Miliband campaign agrees that these votes matter, while placing more emphasis on lost C1 and C2 votes and maintaining a strong middle-class appeal, warning against pretending that these don't matter.

Cruddas and David Miliband appear to contest that analysis:

We need a new electoral strategy, too. Labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" are now largely meaningless. Since 1997 we lost support right across society: 1.6 million lower-income voters and 2.8 million middle-income voters. We need a broad appeal based on principle, not polling -- rooted in the lives and experiences of the people. We combine radicalism and credibility by inspiring people with a sense of hope, while taking them with us as partners in a shared adventure.

"Principle, not polling" -- now there's a thought.

UPDATE: Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala has now commented on the Cruddas and Miliband article. And he recognises, as I implied above, that the line about labels such as "core vote" and "Middle England" now being "largely meaningless" suggests "a potentially significant shift in the electoral strategy argument which has dominated the last few weeks".

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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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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