Labour steps up its 50p tax attack with new "Tory Millionaire's Day" campaign

Ahead of the abolition of the 50p tax rate on 6 April, Labour looks again to paint the Tories as the party of the rich.

When I recently interviewed Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who first called for the reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, he lamented how Labour's "brilliant" campaign against the abolition of the 50p rate had defined the Tories as "a party only interested in cutting taxes for millionaires". More than any other single measure, the move retoxified the Conservative brand and confirmed the Tories' status as "the party of rich". Every time that David Cameron defends an unpopular tax rise or spending cut, Ed Miliband is able to remind voters that he has simultaneously chosen to reduce taxes by an average of £107,500 for 8,000 income-millionaires.  

With just over a month to go until the tax cut is introduced on 6 April, Labour is stepping up its campaign against the measure. The party has today launched a new ad featuring Cameron writing a cheque for £100,000 to "a millionaire" and a clock counting down to "Tory Millionaire's Day". In response, expect the coalition to point out that the new 45p rate is, as Danny Alexander recently noted, still higher than the 40p rate seen for 155 of the 156 months that Labour was in power. 

Alongside the new campaign, I'm told that Labour, encouraged by how Barack Obama forced Mitt Romney onto the defensive over his tax bill, will continue to challenge the PM to say whether he will benefit from the reduction in the top rate. Private polling by the party has previously shown that 62 per cent of voters, including 46 per cent of Conservative supporters, believe he should "come clean and tell people honestly whether he is personally benefiting". 

Unlike George Osborne, who said last year that he would not gain from the move, Cameron has so far refused to say whether he will. When challenged on this subject by Stephen Pound MP at PMQs earlier this month, the PM replied evasively that he would "pay his taxes". Under ever-greater pressure from Labour, the Tories will need to decide whether this strategy is sustainable.

Labour's new advert reminds voters that those earning a million pounds a year will gain more than £100,000 from the cut in the top rate of tax.

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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