Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The economy would grow faster under Labour - new study aids Miliband and Balls

An analysis by NIESR finds the party's less aggressive deficit reduction programme would boost growth. 

Ever since 2010, Labour has struggled to gain the political advantage on the economy. The legacy of the crash and the Tories' success in winning credit for the recovery means that the party continues to lag behind its opponents. The most recent YouGov poll put the Conservative 15 points ahead on the economy and just 15 per cent of voters trust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, compared to 37 per cent who trust David Cameron and George Osborne. It is ratings such as these that imbue the Tories with confidence that they will move ahead when the public fully engage with the election. 

But a new study by NIESR supplies Labour with vital ammunition to fight back. Based on analysis of the parties' fiscal plans, it shows that the economy would grow faster under them and the Lib Dems than under the Tories (by an additional 0.1 per cent in 2017, 0.1 per cent in 2018 and 0.2 per cent in 2019). The explanation for this is Labour's less aggressive approach to deficit reduction. Unlike the Tories, who have pledged to achieve an absolute surplus by the end of the parliament, the party has promised only to eliminate the current deficit, while also leaving room to borrow for investment. The result is that the hit to GDP from austerity is reduced. 

In recent months, Labour has focused on the unfairness of the Tories' plans, which do not include further tax rises on the wealthy, and on the damage that would be done to public services as spending is reduced to its lowest level as a share of GDP since the 1930s. But it can now argue that its approach would be better for growth, too (the area on which the Tories enjoy such a large advantage), a line that it could win it a better hearing among business. 

The study also notes the large overlap between Labour and the Lib Dems' plans (the latter having pledged to eliminate the current structural deficit): "Under both the Labour and Liberal Democrat fiscal targets, public sector borrowing would be used to fund investment. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts a closing of the negative output gap by 2019-20; that implies that the cyclically-adjusted current balance and the actual current balance will be the same, leaving no difference between the stated fiscal targets of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties by the end of the next parliament."

It is another reminder, as I wrote in my column last week, of the common ground between the two parties and of their ideological distance from the Tories. 

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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