Ed Miliband has a good opportunity to woo British business. Photo: Getty
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Five lessons from Ed Miliband’s pro-Europe speech to the CBI

What the Labour leader's address to business leaders tells us.

Labour’s USP is its anti-EU referendum stance

Aside from awkward questions by journalists in the audience, the beleaguered Labour leader gave an assured and well-received performance at the annual CBI conference this afternoon. The main reason behind his confidence in reaching out to business leaders is the fact that his is the only party not to back a referendum on our EU membership.

As I wrote this morning, Ed Miliband and his party should use this political “gap in the market” to persuade business leaders to look favourably on the prospect of a Labour government.

He told the CBI:

There are some people in our country who advocate exit from the EU. There are others who flirt with it, thinking they can do so without consequence. And perhaps with advantage to Britain.

In my view both are equally dangerous. It is a betrayal of our national interest. It is a clear and present danger. A clear and present danger to businesses like yours that trade with Europe every single day.

You know that leaving the single market and stepping away from a trading block that allows us to work with the new economies, like Brazil, India and China, would be a disaster for our country.

It would risk billions of pounds in lost profits, risk millions of jobs and would make Britain weaker, not stronger, in the world. And giving succour to the argument that the real answer is leaving the EU, or contemplating it, simply drags us closer to the danger of exit.

Every nod and wink to those who want to leave sends a message to potential investors in our country that Britan is not open for business, that our country is a dangerous bet.

We have seen over the last couple of years that, contrary to what some might have claimed, trying to use exit as a threat has simply weakened Britain’s influence not strengthened it.

Making ever-more incoherent demands, ever-more isolated from our partners. All of this puts us on the conveyor belt towards exit with no idea how to get off.

I will not be part of it.

If I am Prime Minister I will never risk British businesses, British jobs, British prosperity by playing political games with our membership of the European Union.

 

Amid much prevaricating in the past over whether or not to agree to a future EU referendum, Labour has not spoken strongly enough about the UK’s EU membership. It now looks like this is changing, which will only help Miliband, who desperately needs a positive message, and to appeal to business interests.

 

Talking positively about immigration will benefit Labour – both with wooing business, and politically

Linked to his EU enthusiasm, Miliband should stick to the positive message on immigration he espoused today during his speech, rather than wobbling to Ukip territory as the Tories are doing.

Although conceding that globalisation, “including immigration”, can place “huge pressures” on our economy, as well as bringing great benefits, Miliband’s overriding message about migrants was a favourable one. He took a robust line on the matter:

I am not going to say we should close our borders. Because I don’t believe we should.

I am not going to play politics with our membership of the European Union. Because I don’t believe it makes Britain stronger or more confident in the world.

He also warned against pandering to “false solutions”, a clear hint at those both among his political opponents, and some in his own party, who want to attempt to out-Ukip Ukip on immigration.

Labour making the positive case for immigration will help on two counts:

First, because it draws a clear line between Labour and the Ukip-lite strategy the Tories are following in this area, as well as Ukip itself. This tells British business – overwhelmingly pro-immigration – that it is a positive and coherent alternative to the Tories’ mixed messages on their net migration “target”, as seen today.

Second, it will make Miliband appear to be a politician of principle, rather than one who, like the Prime Minister, is desperately abandoning his beliefs due to the rise and rise of Nigel Farage.

 

The PM’s approach to Europe will make life difficult for a Labour government

Ed Miliband warned the audience that the Conservatives’ attitude towards the EU and stubbornness in the face of their European allies will cost Britain in any attempted future renegotiation:

We have seen over the last couple of years that, contrary to what some might have claimed, trying to use exit as a threat has simply weakened Britain’s influence not strengthened it.

This may not just be a condemnation of David Cameron’s approach, but a fear voiced about his own future in potentially being the Prime Minister renegotiating Britain’s membership.

Miliband highlights the importance of Labour bringing “the necessary change in the way the European Union works”, which includes “longer transitional controls” when new states join the EU, protecting the UK’s benefits system, and achieving “long overdue reform” of the EU budget. If it is a Labour Prime Minister who ends up in the negotiating seat, the view of Britain in Brussels – said by one of my contacts there to be “embarrassing” – will put them severely on the backfoot, and Miliband knows this.

 

British business may already be envisaging him as Prime Minister

How Ed Miliband was received at the CBI’s conference today is telling. He was saved until last, out of the three party leaders, to speak – and it seemed the audience members were waiting most expectantly for his speech, perhaps because they regarded it as the most important. It was the same in the media room, with more journalists turning up to see his speech.

Also, once the Q+A following his speech began, there was clearly sympathy for Miliband among the crowd of mainly business delegates. A question from an ITV journalist about whether he acknowledges there is a crisis of confidence in his leadership caused the conference hall to boo and hiss, and another awkward question about whether Miliband ever wished “the other guy [his brother] had won” also received some furious mutterings among the surprised laughter.

It is telling that such a crowd, which – as far as I could tell from sitting in the hall –­ does not seem to be a particularly vocal one, showed such clear sympathy and respect for him.

 

But there is still a long way to go

This isn’t the seamless, rosy beginning of a Labour love-in with business. Far from it. Miliband had to answer claims that he was against aspiration and wealth creation because of certain tax proposals, including raising the top rate back up to 50p, and introducing a mansion tax.

Miliband insisted, “it is fair that those people pay a bit more,” and added, “I don’t believe that [the mansion tax] is inconsistent with encouraging the wealth creators in our country.”

But that his tax plans could be “punishing success” is an argument he will continue to come up against, especially considering many of his own London MPs oppose the mansion tax.

Also, the CBI did not accept his speech without reservations. Its director-general, John Cridland, commented:

Labour’s tendency to market intervention could deter investment. We believe open markets are the best way to deliver growth for all.

And Miliband himself admitted:

We won’t agree about everything if I am prime minister. But in everything I do there will be consistent leadership. I am not going to say it is OK to carry on as we are with the economy we have. Because I don’t believe it is.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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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