David Axelrod speaks during the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum on September 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour hires David Axelrod as senior strategic adviser

Former senior Obama adviser joins the party's general election team.

Many in Labour were disgruntled when the Tories recruited Barack Obama's former adviser Jim Messina as a campaign consultant last summer - but Ed Miliband has just unambiguously trumped that appointment. In a political coup, the party has secured the services of the US president's former strategist David Axelrod, the man who masterminded his two election victories, as a senior strategic adviser.

Axelrod, whose appointment is the result of months of effort by Americophile Douglas Alexander, and his firm AKPD will work with Labour's general election team from now until next May and participate in regular strategic discussions with Miliband and others. His decision to take on the role is a big vote of confidence in Labour; strategists as renowned as Axelrod don't want to be associated with defeated parties.

As I've noted before, there are significant similarities between Obama's 2012 campaign and Labour's cost-of-living strategy. In meetings with the Labour team in London and Washington DC, the president's aides emphasised how important his stance on living standards had been to victory in tough times. A report on the election by the veteran Democrat Stan Greenberg for Miliband pointed to polls showing that while Mitt Romney had led on "handling the economy"(51-44%) and "reducing the federal budget deficit" (51-37%), Obama had led on understanding "the economic problems ordinary people in this country are having" (51-43%) and on "looking out for the middle class" (51-40%). This left-right split is mirrored in the UK, with Labour contiuing to lead as the party best-placed to improve living standards.

In a statement released tonight, Axelrod has offered a fulsome endorsement of Miliband's political programme and his focus on the cost-of-living.

He said:

I’ve had several conversations with Ed Miliband over the course of the last year in which I have been struck by the power of his ideas, the strength of his vision and the focus he brings to solving the fundamental challenge facing Britain.

That challenge is how you create an economy which works for everyone: an economy in which every hardworking person can get ahead and deal with the cost-of-living crisis so they can plan for the future and plan for their children.

He understands that a growing economy demands that you have to have broad prosperity. We can’t just have prosperity hoarded by a few where people at the top are getting wealthier and wealthier but people in the middle are getting squeezed.

This is a problem not just for Britain but everywhere in advanced economies including here in the US. Ed  Miliband  has a real vision of where we need to go to solve those problems. He has answers to these questions which will be very potent in the next election.

That is how we won in the US. Barack Obama articulated a vision which had, at its core, the experience of everyday  people. And everyday people responded, they organised and they overcame the odds. I see the same thing happening in Britain.

Axelod will arrive in London on 14 May for two days of strategy meetings with Miliband, Harriet Harman, and other senior shadow cabinet members. Labour sources are keen to emphasise that he is "not a replacement" for Arnie Graf, the US community organiser, who was brought in by Miliband to revolutionise Labour's campaigning. As I've previously reported, the party has a "programme of work" ready for Graf when he returns to the UK. He and Axelrod will have distinct roles in the campaign.

The appointment of the latter, a superstar in the world of political strategy, will undoubtedly help to settle some of the nerves on Labour's left and right that I noted earlier today. At a time when the party's poll lead remains slim, this is a big vote of confidence in its chances of victory.

Miliband said: "David Axelrod is known across the world for helping get President Obama into the White House in 2008 and then win re-election in 2012. In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few.

"It’s excellent news that  David  has agreed to  help One Nation Labour win the next election and build our campaign to change Britain so hardworking people are better off. He will be a huge asset to our campaign as we work to show the British people how we can change our country for the better ."

Douglas Alexander said: "I am delighted to have been able to secure the services of David Axelrod and AKPD  for Labour. My conversations with him over recent months have underlined how he has the skills, the strength and the values needed to make a huge contribution in the year ahead. This announcement is great news for Labour - and seriously bad news for the Conservatives."

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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