David Cameron gives a speech about the further powers devolved to the Scottish parliament on January 22, 2015 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron's "weaponise" charge throws Miliband off balance

The PM's sheer chutzpah allowed him to command the session. 

Few PMQs in this parliament have been as brutal as today's. Ed Miliband led again on the NHS, Labour's strongest suit (and the issue that polls show is of greatest importance to voters), questioning David Cameron on his failure to save A&E units from closure. Cameron responded by immediately challenging Miliband on his refusal to deny that he vowed to "weaponise" the health service, demanding that he apologise. At this point, the session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men. 

The Labour leader attacked Cameron's evasiveness (with supreme chutzpah, he simply ignored his questions) but the PM would not relent. After persistent goading, a furious Miliband hyperbolically accused him of declaring "war on Wales" before clarifying that this referred to his use of the "Welsh NHS" for "political propaganda". Any channel hopper unfortunate enough to catch the exchanges would likely have switched off at this point. 

The Tories' outrage over "weaponise" is, to put it mildly, rather confected. It was largely through their briefings over welfare that the word first entered the political lexicon. But it does provide Cameron with a means of throwing Miliband off balance every time he raises the subject. Most voters are unlikely to care about the substance of the "weaponise" row (a word that conjures up images of armed doctors). But they will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes ("war on Wales"). Having said several times that he "does not remember" what he said to the BBC's Nick Robinson (who first reported the "weaponise" claim), the Labour leader cannot now defend his alleged use of the word without being branded a liar. 

The PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence (the Tories having taken the lead in the polls). In response to a question from Labour left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on his conversation with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, the PM, deploying his party's mantra of choice, quipped that he asked him what his "long-term economic plan" was. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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