When Clegg was in favour of the NHS reforms

The Liberal Democrat leader insisted the plans were in his party’s manifesto.

As part of a desperate attempt to restore his political credibility, Nick Clegg has threatened to veto the government's NHS bill unless substantial changes are made. But the inconvenient truth remains that the Lib Dem leader was in favour of the reforms before he was against them.

In an interview on The Andrew Marr Show on 23 January, Clegg was asked whether the plan was in the Lib Dem manifesto. He replied: "Actually, funnily enough it was. Indeed, it was. We certainly said we were going to get rid of primary care trusts. We said we were going to get rid of strategic health authorities."

He went on to defend GP commissioning on the basis that those "who know the patients best" should play "a greater role in deciding where that patient goes, where the money goes in the system". Clegg concluded: "I agree it's an ambitious programme of reform – but over time I think it'll leave patients with a feeling that they are at the centre of it. They're not constantly at the beck and call in a system over which they've got very little control."

But yesterday on the same programme, he argued: "I think what we should now do is – which is a change – is an evolutionary approach that only happens . . . where people are willing and able to take on these new changes. If not, we shouldn't be forcing the pace according to artificial deadlines in a calendar."

Now, you can argue that Clegg (for once) has made a U-turn in the right direction. But his behaviour reinforces the impression of the Deputy Prime Minister as a man who forms his opinions on the basis of political calculation, rather than principled conviction.

What's more, awkwardly for the Lib Dems, not one their MPs voted against the Health and Social Care Bill at its second reading in January, although two members, John Pugh and Andrew George, abstained. It was left to the former MP Evan Harris and Shirley Williams to lead the charge against the reforms. The question remains: why did Clegg wait so long to sound the alarm?

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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