The 50p tax rate is an essential part of a fair deficit reduction plan

At a time when the incomes of ordinary families are falling, the highest earners must contribute more to reduce government borrowing.

Labour’s campaign on the cost-of-living-crisis has clearly struck a chord. People know that – whatever the Treasury may claim – it has been getting harder to cover all their costs as prices rise and wages fall. Raising living standards for the long-term will be a huge challenge, particularly at a time when getting the deficit down means that there is very little money around. But with the right mix of policies I believe that we can do it.

Paying down the deficit is a necessary part of that mix. The Tories’ failure to balance the books in this Parliament, as they had promised, means that a Labour government will have to finish the job. Ed Balls’ commitment that Labour will get the current budget into surplus as soon as possible, and get the nation’s debt falling in the next Parliament, gives a firm foundation for the long-term reform we need.

And that deficit reduction must be done in a fair way. At a time when the incomes of ordinary families are falling, the priority should not be tax cuts for the highest earners, but help for those on middle and low incomes. The Tories were wrong to cut taxes for the top one per cent and we now know that over the three years that the 50p tax rate was in place, those with incomes of £150,000 and above paid nearly £10bn more in tax than thought when George Osborne chose to cut it. Restoring the 50p rate will ensure that everyone is making a fair contribution to paying down the deficit.

But while getting down the deficit is necessary, it is not sufficient. We also need to take some long-term – and difficult – decisions to change the way our economy works. Only then will we raise productivity and living standards. This is at the heart of my review into how we sustainably grow the economy. My work has taken me up and down the country and I’ve been struck by the creative energy which can drive our economy if only we can tap into it.

How can we do that? Devolving the right economic powers to our cities and regions will be key. They are best placed to make long-term decisions based on the potential of their area. Providing the right funding networks for small but growing businesses is also vital. This is partly about reforming our banking system so that it is competitive and focused on the needs of the businesses they serve, and it is also about finding innovative ways of linking those with the money to those with the ideas. Underpinning it all we need an infrastructure system which is modern and focused on long-term growth.

None of this is easy. Getting the deficit down will be tough. Devolving decision making and investing in infrastructure will at times be unpopular. But I believe that with a fair deficit reduction plan and long-term economic reforms we can raise living standards for all.

Andrew Adonis is shadow infrastructure minister and is leading Labour's growth review

The highest earners "paid nearly £10bn more in tax than thought when George Osborne chose to cut it". Photograph: Getty Images.
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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