Clear Yellow Water

Why today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

I'd be the first to admit that it's not the best catch phrase ever invented. It may be the worst. But clear yellow water is what the party grass roots has been begging for ever since we entered government. And it's a lot better than the sentiment of "not a cigarette paper between us" that we all so disliked for the first 12 months of coalition government.

And while there have been tentative steps in that direction for a while, today it's been delivered. The Lib Dems find themselves standing on the high ground of tax reform for the lowest paid and middle income families. Today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

Nick Clegg's speech today is being painted as a gamble. "If Osborne says no, Clegg looks impotent", goes the mantra. That's simply not right. If Osborne says no, the Tories look like right wing zealots hammering the poor while letting their mates in the City get away with millions in bonuses. Go on George, I dare you...

However, I wonder who has the real political problem today?

It is something of a paradox that we have ended up differentiating ourselves from the Tories by advocating tax cuts that they are not keen on. The irony of a Conservative chancellor not acquiescing to a request to cut taxes will not be lost on the electorate.

But surely more ironic is the lengths Labour have gone to in the last ten days to demonstrate fiscal prudence -- the iron fist keeping the cuts, freezing the pay for the public sector -- only to see the Lib Dems step into the void they have left and champion the poor. Oh Mr Miliband, where to now? Are you going to say these tax cuts would be too far and too fast?

Before you know it we'll be ditching the second worst political catch phrase ever invented ("Alarm Clock Britain" -- give it up, Nick) and start talking about the squeezed middle...

While the Tories now have a short term political quandary to solve, it's Labour who find themselves standing in a great pool of clear yellow water.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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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