Nigel Farage doesn't represent some of the left-of-Labour views in his party. Photo: Getty
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Red Ukip: a new political force?

Ideas well to the left of the Labour party are not compatible with Ukip's traditional libertarian selling point.

Some have mocked the term “Red Ukip”, imagining that Ukip remains a Thatcherite breakaway from the Conservative Party. Well, they won’t be anymore.

I’ve just returned from a remarkable fringe meeting at the party's annual autumn conference, in which Ian Dexter, a Ukip member, former candidate in county and district elections and potential parliamentary candidate for 2015, outlined his strategy for winning over Labour voters. His ideas are well to the left of the current Labour party.

“Money has to be prized out of the rich," Dexter said, lamenting the scale of inequality in the UK today: he quoted a statistic that the richest top five families have as much wealth as the bottom 20 per cent. His solutions include more progressive taxation, saying that the UK’s growth had been greatest in the Fifties, when the top rate of tax was over 90 per cent. Dexter also advocated re-evaluating council tax bands for properties, which has not been done since 1991.

Only an hour after Nigel Farage's communications chief, Patrick O’Flynn, had announced that Ukip would abolish inheritance tax, Dexter said he was making a mistake: “What on earth are we doing abolishing inheritance tax?" he asked.

Asked about the risk of the wealthiest fleeing the UK, Dexter said: "I would call their bluff - if you wanna go, go." And, he warned the audience, "Wealth does not trickle down" and “The days of rugged individualism are gone.”

There was more, too. Much more. Speaking about the railways, Dexter said that the state-owned Northern Ireland railways were the best in the UK. "Just renationalise the whole dam thing,” he said. He also supported introducing rent controls and called for realism in Ukip about the possibility of tax cuts. “We've got to realise that the NHS and welfare bill are going to keep doing up,” he said. And he called on banks to be broken down to their pre-1970s sizes.

It was quite a display: one more associated with members of the Socialist Workers Party than Ukip. And it was extraordinary, too, that Ukip allowed Dexter to speak at one of their biggest fringe events, especially as he said that they had a good idea of what he would say. Intriguingly, Dexter also said that he is in regular contact with Patrick O’Flynn.

Red Ukip is a very real force, alive and well. And so is the democratic tendency in Ukip, which allows debates to be played out with a frankness anathema to the three main parties.

But ultimately Red Ukip is not compatible with the libertarianism that was once Ukip’s selling point. As parties expand, so do the ideological tensions within them. There will come a point when it becomes impossible to remain the party of both Ian Dexter and Douglas Carswell. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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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