Palin is not Obama’s biggest threat, she’s his greatest asset

According to recent polling, Sarah Palin is the only GOP front-runner who would not unseat the presi

For all of the the left leaning people who are panicking at the prospect of former half-term governor of Alaska and full-time Facebooker Sarah Palin being elected president of the United States in 2012, I have a simple message for you: relax.

Admittedly, Obama's poll numbers are not exactly stellar. One recent poll being touted by the American conservative media puts his job approval rating at 39 per cent, whereas the real number is probably closer to 45 per cent. There is, however, a small ray of hope. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that, in Missouri at least, Palin is the one candidate Obama does not have to worry about.

Missouri was carried by John McCain in 2008 with a one per cent margin, after remaining undeclared for several days. (Interestingly, it was also the first time Missouri had voted for a losing Presidential candidate since 1956). As a result it is considered a swing state in Presidential elections. Although it appears to be leaning more towards the GOP recently, it is by no measure a forgone conclusion come election time.

The PPP poll had the sitting president trailing the former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The only Republican candidate Obama beat was Palin. Of course, this is only in one state, two years before the election and polls have never been a concrete predictor of results. Even with that in mind there are a few things that progressives need to consider.

Firstly, a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy would actually end up being a good thing. As was shown in the 2008 campaign and in the years following, the more the American public gets to know Sarah Palin, the less popular she becomes (her unfavourable ratings are now at 52 per cent, the highest they have been since she was announced as McCain's VP candidate). She does have some impassioned and very vocal supporters but those people comprise a tiny minority of the electorate. If Palin managed to win the Republican nomination in 2012 it would be a gift for Obama.

The second consideration is that, should this poll be indicative of the national opinion (and with the recent shift back towards the GOP at the 2010 midterm elections one could make that argument), there is a very real possibility that Obama will be a one-term president. Should that happen Republicans will trumpet their victory as a repudiation of liberal (or Marxist, if they're feeling particularly strident) policies in America.

This would be bad for all kinds of reasons: the principal reason being that it's frankly not true. When asked about individual issues, a large percentage of Americans are actually further left politically than most Republican politicians or European pundits will admit. The American public overwhelmingly supports openly gay people serving in the US military, more than half say that abortion is OK in certain circumstances, a large portion say that gun laws should be stricter, and the majority support stem-cell research. The Republican Party is on record as being against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", against abortion, want gun control rules to be more lax, and a lot of them oppose stem cell research full stop, never mind federal funding for it. Despite all this, the GOP appears to have the political advantage. Why?

The Republican machine does an excellent job of getting their message to the American public, and right now, that message is one of anger. The American people cannot see things getting better instantly and are starting to become disenchanted with Obama. This is a crying shame due to the fact that literally hundreds of bills are stuck in the Senate where the Republican minority has a filibuster on just about every piece of Democratic legislation.

American anger is misdirected, and the Republicans are exploiting this to great advantage. It is for this reason that anyone who wishes for a more progressive America should be concerned about a Republican president being elected in 2012. If current polling is correct it is an increasingly likely scenario – unless the GOP nominate Palin.

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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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