Ed's to-do list: smash Ukip, woo hacks, travel. Photo: Getty
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“Labour is in a tough fight”: five lessons from Ed Miliband’s speech

The Labour leader made a speech to party activists and journalists today in an attempt to draw a line under his party’s crisis. What did he tell us?

He’s going to get out more

One key criticism of Ed Miliband, voiced by the New Statesman editor Jason Cowley last week, is that he doesn’t get out enough. That he doesn’t seem to understand ordinary voters’ concerns because he is out of touch with the rest of the country, preferring a more comfortable mode of seminar socialism and lofty academic ideas.

He acknowledged this today, twice emphasising his plan to get around the country and deliver his message. “This speech is about setting out the big argument for the country, and by the way, I’m going to be doing this again and again, right across the country,” he said, in response to whether Britain can learn to love a geek in just six months.

When asked to identify one mistake he’s made over the past four years, he admitted that he hadn’t been around Britain enough:

“A lesson I learnt most in the last four and a half years or so is about going out more and engaging more,” he said. “Spend less time in Westminster and more time out in the country. You learn more. It makes you a better politician and engages more directly with people. So that’s what I’m going to spend the next six months doing.”

 

He’s trying to woo the press

As I wrote this morning, it is ridiculous that Miliband’s supporters when doing the media rounds during his time of crisis have been blaming the media, particularly the Murdoch press, for their leader’s problems. It seems Miliband has cottoned on to this rather lazy, misjudged defence.

Today’s speech was essentially a showcase for the press, showing that he can still make a good speech with a strong narrative, without fluffing his lines (the autocues were all too prominent today). He also made a point to take a significant number of questions from journalists, much to the anger of some of the Labour activists, who made up the majority of his audience.

It was also notable when pushed on his passage about holding “vested interests” to account that he mentioned energy companies, banks and payday lenders, but didn’t include Murdoch in that list. Usually he refers to what he sees as his gutsy part in the phonehacking furore when doing his “standing up to vested interests” shtick. He also repeated that he is “not in the whingeing business” and “The Times and all the other newspapers have to take their own views.”

Clearly Miliband and his team are noting the importance of having the media onside, and how difficult the consequences can be when they do not.

 

Vested interests are a convenient enemy

There was a key passage in his address today lashing out at “vested interests”:

No vested interest, whoever they are and however powerful they are, from banks to energy companies, should ever be able to hold our country back.

He insisted repeatedly that he would hold these to account when Prime Minister, as he has done in opposition, without really specifying what they are. His reticence to outline which or whose vested interests he’s keen to take on suggests two things:

The first is that there is a policy announcement due that ties nicely into this narrative (something new and radical on tax avoidance maybe? His “zero-zero economy” line suggests this too). The second is that they are a convenient enemy: people at the top, working in their own interests, without a care for ordinary working people. It doesn’t matter who they are, they’re just useful for making Miliband sound plucky.

 

Labour is finally ready to condemn Ukip

It is well-known that many in the Labour machine lament that they cottoned on to the Ukip threat to their vote too late, and have been having real trouble countering Nigel Farage’s narrative in northern and seaside towns that would have once been safe Labour bets.

But Miliband today gave his strongest, most direct, attack on Ukip yet:

I say to working people in this country, let’s really examine their vision. Because when you stop and look at it, it is not really very attractive. And it is rooted in the same failed ideas that have let our country down.

Piece together the different statements from Mr Farage and his gang and think about what it says: That working mothers aren’t worth as much as men. Life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people. You feel safer when you don’t have someone who is foreign living next door. The NHS would be better off privatised. Rights at work, whether they come from Europe or from here, are simply a barrier to economic success. And let’s get out of the European Union. Is that really the country we want to be? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that’s the kind of country people want.

 

He’s developing a sharper immigration message

His message on immigration was still a little hazy, but he’s definitely sharpening it up.

In his speech he simply concluded on the subject: “We will be talking more about immigration as a party.” However, when pushed on the subject during the ensuing Q+A, he spoke quite candidly about what he sees as the drawback of only making the positive case for immigration:

I always talk about the positive benefits of migration and it’s absolutely right to do so. The thing that as a party it’s important that we acknowledge though, is that in aggregate migration is definitely beneficial for our country, that is my view, but people don’t live their lives in the aggregate. People live their lives specifically in their own circumstances. And migration affects different people differently.

***

It wasn’t a particularly exciting performance. I’d say those looking for a confident, coherent Miliband should look to his speech to the CBI earlier this week, which was largely missed by the media. I reported that it was an assured performance, with more to offer business than David Cameron’s attempt. Matthew Parris in his Times column today judged it “powerful” and “incomparably the best” of the three party leaders.

But today’s address did give Miliband the opportunity to outline what he is about, and how his party is going to fight the last six months to the election. His section on Labour’s programme for government was particularly good, delivered with passion and fluency:

And just in case you find people who still believe that there is no difference between the parties, just tell them what we are fighting for:

An £8 minimum wage.

An end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts.

Freezing energy bills until 2017.

Putting our young people back to work.

Paying down the deficit and doing it fairly.

Reforming our banks so that they work for small businesses.

Cutting business rates.

Apprenticeships alongside every government contract.

Building 200,000 homes a year.

Abolishing the bedroom tax.

Tackling tax avoidance.

Hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and careworkers, and putting the right values back at the heart of the NHS and repealing the Health and Social Care Act.

Read the full speech here.

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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