Will Cameron ever make his long-promised speech on race?

In January, Tory strategists briefed that Cameron would distance the party from Enoch Powell's toxic legacy but we've heard nothing since.

The lack of support for the Conservatives among ethnic minorities is rightly recognised by party strategists as one of the biggest obstacles to a Tory majority. In 2010, just 16 per cent of BME voters supported the party compared to 68 per cent for Labour and 14 per cent for the Lib Dems. As Lord Ashcroft noted in his study on the subject, "not being white was the single best predictor that somebody would not vote Conservative". Unless this trend is reversed, the problem will grow worse with time. The new study by Operation Black Vote reveals that there are now 168 marginal seats in which the ethnic minority vote is greater than the majority of the sitting MP and BME voters will account for one in five of the total number by 2050 (up from one in ten in 2001). As in the case of the Republicans, this long-term demographic trend threatens to consign the Conservatives to irrelevance. 

Alive to this danger, Tory strategists briefed in January that David Cameron was so concerned at how the issue of race was damaging support for the party that he would address it "head-on with a speech in the next two months". Referring to the toxic legacy of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, Sajid Javid, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is of Pakistani origin, said that it would require "the Prime Minister, someone of that standing", to say Powell "doesn’t represent what the Conservative Party is today in any way and to set out what the Conservative Party actually is when it comes to race relations, multiculturalism and so forth". The Daily Mail went on to report that Cameron had "already asked for ideas for a speech to combat the idea that the spirit of Powell is alive in the modern Tory Party and is seeking ideas for policies which will dramatise the common values between Conservatives and non-white voters." 

But seven months on, we've heard nothing from Cameron. Instead, the party has further damaged its reputation with ethnic minorities through a series of demagogic stunts (most notably the "go home" vans) on immigration. The more astute Conservative MPs, however, continue to recognise the need for a detoxifying moment. In an essay for the new Tory group Renewal, Nadhim Zahawi, who has called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, wrote that "the problem isn’t primarily the Conservative policy platform. It’s far deeper than that, a gut feeling which says ‘these people aren’t on my side; they don’t have my best interests at heart.’ Partly this is a legacy issue. Though both were repudiated by the party, many non-white Britons have never forgotten Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech, nor the notorious slogan from the 1964 Smethwick election ‘if you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Labour’. The handling of the Brixton riots, as well as the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, convinced many others we were indifferent at best, downright hostile at worst. Given this history, it’s not going to be easy for us to gain the trust of ethnic minority voters who have never considered voting Conservative before." 

Indeed. But does Cameron, who, under the guidance of Lynton Crosby, has abandoned modernisation and retreated to the core territory of immigration, welfare and Europe, still have the imagination to respond? 

David Cameron laughs as he speaks to men during a visit to the Jamia Mosque on August 7, 2013 in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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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