Cameron will be punished for failure on immigration

New report shows that the coalition will struggle to reduce net migration from 200,000.

The news that immigration is unlikely to fall significantly in 2011 should set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street. An IPPR study published today suggests that net migration will remain around the 200,000 mark, far short of the government's flagship promise to reduce net migration from "the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands".

The report cites several reasons why net migration will remain high: increased economic migration from the EU (which the government cannot legally restrict) as the UK economy continues to outperform those of Spain, Portugal and Greece; increased emigration from Ireland (120,000 Irish nationals are expected to leave the republic in 2010 and 2011); higher immigration from Latvia and Lithuania (the numbers have risen from 25,000 to 40,000 a year); and lower emigration from the UK (30,000 left in the year to March 2010 compared to 130,000 in the year to March 2008).

Along with the EU, immigration is one of the issues that the Tory right wants to see significant progress on before the end of this parliament. The imperative of deficit reduction means that dissent has so far been limited. Cameron has projected himself as a quasi-war leader, even channelling Lord Kitchener in his conference speech ("Your country needs you"). Conservatives, more than most, are susceptible to such rhetoric. But expect patience to wear thin as time goes on. The Tory right, like the Lib Dem left, will begin to demand greater concessions from the coalition.

One should add that the possibility of Conservative failure on immigration represents a big political opportunity for Ukip and the far right. There is always a danger at times of high unemployment that voters will turn to populists and demagogues in search of solutions. On Twitter, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, correctly points out: "Good report by IPPR on immigration, Cameron's cuts are meaningless. If euro collapses in 2011 expect a flood from Europe we can't control."

Cameron's decision to raise unrealistic expectations on immigration will return to haunt him.

George Eaton is political 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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