Scottish Labour leadership candidate Jim Murphy speaks to the media yesterday. Photograph: Getty.
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Jim Murphy rejects "Blairite" label but cautions against shift to the left

"The folk who say you can only do this from the left aren't following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history," says the Scottish Labour leadership frontrunner. 

The label attached most often to Jim Murphy is "Blairite". And the frontrunner to become the new leader of Scottish Labour was one of the former PM's most loyal defenders. But interviewed today on The World At One, he was unsurprisingly keen to shed this reputation. "There's only one Blairite, really, and it's Tony Blair. All those labels are in the past," he said. On the Iraq war, he delivered the same line used by David Miliband during the 2010 Labour leadership election: "If we'd known then what we now know, none of us would have voted for it." He added: "The approach I'm going to try and take is, I don't care whether you're left-wing, or right-wing, or New Labour, or Old Labour, it's losing Labour I want to get rid of."

There are some within Labour who argue that Murphy is doomed unless he moves Scottish Labour sharply to the left. Katy Clark, the MP North Ayrshire and Arran (one of those interviewed for my report on the party in this week's magazine), told me: "There needs to be a shift to the left. The very clear message, not just at the referendum, but during the referendum even more so, was that people want to see political change, they want to see social change.

"Repeatedly people would say to me that they found Westminster politics very right-wing, they found the Tories very right-wing, they found Ukip even more right-wing, but, frankly, many people that historically would have looked to Labour, who voted Labour in recent elections, said very clearly that they didn’t think that Labour’s traditions were good enough and they wanted what we would call a more left-wing agenda, they wouldn’t necessarily put it in that way, but they wanted a move to the left from Labour. Scottish Labour needs to rise to that challenge."

But Murphy cautioned against such an interpretation. "I think the folk who say you can only do this from the left aren't following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history," he said. "One of the reasons that the SNP won is because they promised a bigger council tax freeze than any of the other political parties. The nature of nationalism, is that the SNP are both to the left of Labour and to the right of Labour depending on what the voters want to here. I want to come up with a sensible Labour answer to Scotland's problems and that is about doing things differently here. This isn't a blueprint of taking whatever they do in London and trying to apply it in Scotland."

Rival leadership candidate Neil Findlay, the left-wing shadow health secretary, will be relieved that Murphy has left him with political space to occupy. He is on course to win the endorsement of Unite, whose Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said yesterday: "Neil Findlay’s declaration that he will stand for leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be welcomed – his democratic socialist credentials are without question and he has a proven track record of representing the interests of working people." 

While Murphy is still likely to win comfortably, one SNP source told me that the party was relishing the prospect of the trade unions, and Unite in particular (whose recent animus with Murphy dates from the Falkirk affair), opening fire on him. "Unless Ed can do a deal with them, the unions will cause problems for Jim," a Labour figure warned. 

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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