McCluskey’s rhetoric is “wrong and unhelpful”, says Miliband

Labour leader criticises Unite boss’s rallying cry for more strikes – but Labour and the unions shou

The Labour leader Ed Miliband has criticised comments made by Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union, as "wrong and unhelpful".

The recently elected union boss, who is due to meet with David Cameron and other union bosses later today, has written a piece in the Guardian expressing solidarity with the student protesters and calling for further strike action:

The magnificent students' movement urgently needs to find a wider echo if the government is to be stopped.

The rallying cry continues:

It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.

Calling for Miliband to elaborate a clearer position on cuts, he makes the somewhat barbed comment:

"What do we want? Fewer cuts later on", is not a slogan to set the blood coursing.

Miliband, who has made a concerted effort to distance himself from the unions since he was brought to power on the strength of their vote, was quick to slap the comments down. A spokesperson said:

Ed warned about using overblown rhetoric about strikes in his conference speech and this is a case in point.

The language and tone of Len McCLuskey's comments are wrong and unhelpful and Ed Miliband will be making that clear when he meets him in the near future.

This is just the latest sign of tension – when Miliband said in his conference speech that he would have "no truck" with irresponsible strikes, McCluskey was filmed mouthing: "Rubbish."

Speaking to the New Statesman in September, McCluskey indicated that he would be happy to challenge Labour:

I'm not for leaving the Labour Party, but I'm not going to continue the line of just handing over millions of pounds without it demonstrating it is changing.

The right-wing media were quick to decry the election of "Red Len" as a disaster for Miliband that could bring out splits and divisions. Though there is no strong evidence yet that this will be the case, such public spats benefit no one.

A functional, direct relationship between Labour and the unions is desirable and productive – a fact of which both men are well aware. Before his election, McCluskey himself wrote:

Of course we need public opinion on our side, which is why working closely with Labour MPs is so vital.

Conversely, there is a strong argument for Labour to align itself with the interests of ordinary workers. McCluskey's comment about the "fewer cuts later on" slogan will hit a nerve in a Labour Party that has yet to articulate a clear position on funding cuts that resonates with voters.

When this has been achieved, Miliband will be in a more comfortable position to re-evaluate the way in which he works with McCluskey and other bosses. Labour and the unions should be working together to unite public opinion against swingeing, ideological cuts – not bickering over rhetoric.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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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