The Tories want to brand Miliband as "weak". But McBride presents him as strong

Damian McBride's account of Miliband's political ruthlessness in his new book doesn't suit the Tories' narrative.

The Tories have long counted down the days until the serialisation of Damian McBride's memoir in the Daily Mail in the hope that it will provide them with plentiful ammunition to hurl at Ed Milband in the run-up to Labour conference. But judging by the extracts published today, it could prove less helpful than they'd hoped. 

If there is one word that David Cameron has sought to associate with Miliband in recent months it is "weak". But rather than a feeble, spineless character, the Miliband who emerges from the pages of Power Trip is a strong and ruthless figure. Here are three notable examples from today's extracts. 

1. McBride confirms that Miliband "effectively threatened to resign from the cabinet" over the planned third runway at Heathrow, a move that successfully torpedoed the policy. He adds that Ed Balls was angry that Brown "had been made to look weak" in front of his cabinet by "having to kowtow to a supposed ally". The story of how Miliband defied the PM and his political patron hardly suits the Tory narrative. 

2. We are also reminded of how Miliband dared to stand against his brother, long considered Brown's heir apparent, for the Labour leadership. That might not seem significant but the Tories have recently stopped referring to how Miliband "knifed" his brother out of fear that it undermines their framing of him as "weak".

McBride also writes insightfully about how Miliband's loyalty to his father's socialist ideals may have prompted him to run against David:

It’s hard to listen to any of Ed Miliband’s occasionally tortured, over-academic speeches without hearing his father’s voice, especially when he talks about recasting the capitalist model and re-shaping society through the empowerment of ordinary people. 

And that’s not just about Ed’s politics; it’s also undoubtedly central to how he explains to himself and to the rest of his family why he challenged his older brother for the Labour leadership.

What better reason than needing to achieve his father’s vision and ensure David Miliband did not traduce it? An act of supposed disloyalty to his brother becomes transformed in his mind into the ultimate act of tribute to his father.

3. At PMQs in 2012, David Cameron mocked Miliband over claims in the Daily Mail that he used to fetch coffees for Ed Balls when the pair were both Treasury advisers to Gordon Brown. He said: "Apparently, he still has to bring him the coffee. That's just how assertive and butch the leader of the opposition really is."

This fits with the Tory narrative of Miliband as a put-upon junior to Balls, Brown's star pupil (a relationship, they suggest, that is unchanged). But McBride scotches this account: 

At the Treasury, the two Eds were a double act. The idea Miliband was ever made to feel subordinate to Balls is baloney, along with the myth of him bringing Balls his morning coffee.

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London on 9 July 2013. 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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