Where Miliband leads, Cameron follows

Cameron echoes Miliband and links the riots to the banking crash, expenses and phone hacking.

Not everyone liked Ed Miliband's attempt to link the riots to the banking crash, the expenses scandal and the phone-hacking scandal. Boris Johnson, for instance, quipped in his Telegraph column today: "I simply cannot agree that Gerald Kaufman's expense-claim for a Bang and Olufsen television has somehow triggered or legitimated the torching of property in outer London."

But it's worth noting that both David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have since followed Miliband and made the connection. Appearing on the Today programme this morning, Duncan Smith remarked:

We all have to put our hands in the air, those of us in leadership positions, and recognise in the last 15 or 20 years what has happened to us is that many of us have just decided that life is about what you take out of it, not what you put in. You know, stiffing somebody on a debt in the City, or raiding someone's telephone for messages, claiming expenses that you should not have claimed - these are issues that all of us have to recognise we have to put our own house in order at the same time, and try and change that.

While Cameron used the closing passage of his speech (read the full transcript here) to make a similar point:

Moral decline and bad behaviour is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society. In the banking crisis, with MPs' expenses, in the phone hacking scandal, we have seen some of the worst cases of greed, irresponsibility and entitlement. The restoration of responsibility has to cut right across our society.

Both were echoing Miliband, who argued on the Today programme last Friday:

It is about irresponsibility wherever we find it in our society. We've seen in the past few years: MPs' expenses, what happened in the banks, what happened with phone hacking, what do those things share in common ... it's a lack of a sense of right and wrong, and a "me first" mentality.

As both parties fight to define the political reaction to the riots, the Labour leader can count that as a small victory. The challenge for the left is to now address the right's main explanation for the riots: family breakdown. Miliband made a good start in his speech this morning (read the full transcript here) when he argued that such a narrative was too simple. As he noted, "[T]here are single parents who do a brilliant job and two-parent families who do a terrible job." He added: "Some people say it's all about the feckless at the bottom, but there are rich families unable to control their kids and poor families who do it very well."

Cameron spoke today of a "family test" that would be applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families and undermines commitment, he said, "then we shouldn't do it." But Cameron will struggle to make this argument while simultaneously rolling back state support for families. An unusual number of benefit cuts - the abolition of baby bonds, the three-year freeze in child benefit, the abolition of the health in maternity grant, the withdrawal of child tax credits from higher earners - hit families hardest. By contrast, benefits for the elderly - free bus passes, free TV licences, the winter fuel allowance - have been left entirely untouched. In addition, as I exclusively revealed in the NS last month, Cameron has broken his promise to protect Sure Start and 20 centres have already closed. So long as the PM's rhetoric is unsupported by his policies, this will prove fertile territory for Miliband.

Update: Cameron has now acceded to Miliband's demand for a commission of inquiry.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496