"This is somebody who thoroughly dislikes what modern Britain is.” (Photo: Getty)
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Chuka Umunna on Nigel Farage: "The mask slips to reveal something that is pretty nasty"

As the election gets closer, Nigel Farage is showing his true face - and Labour must call it for what it is, says Chuka Umunna.

Unless you're Dermot Murnaghan, Chuka Umunna doesn't get angry. Unsurprisingly considering his background – he worked as a solicitor at Herbert Smith and Rochman Landau before becoming an MP – he slowly and calmly assembles a case.

And the charge sheet against Ukip and Nigel Farage – back in the headlines after calling for the repeal of all racial discrimination laws – is getting longer.

“What have we seen over the last 18 months?” Umunna asks, “We’ve seen the party [Ukip] adopt the old slogan of the BNP. We’ve heard him [Nigel Farage] stating that he feels awkward on the train in the company of people speaking other languages. We’ve seen him get stuck in a traffic jam and immediately seeking to blame immigrants for that.”

He pauses. “So it’s not all surprising that given his form he doesn’t see the need for racial equality legislation in our country.”  As the campaign wears on, Umunna argues, “more and more of the mask slips to reveal something that is pretty nasty. And all that’s happened in the last 24 hours is that the mask has slipped even more. This isn’t a picture of somebody who to use their slogan, loves Britain, this is somebody who thoroughly dislikes what modern Britain is.”

But it’s a challenge for Labour, too, says the man who many regard as one of Ed Miliband’s best weapons in the fight to return to power after just one term in opposition. “Those of us who would rather that people voted for other parties – our own party – need to make that argument on its own merits. We need to say that we in the Labour Party believe in all the people in this country, we don’t believe in privatising the NHS or tax cuts targeted [only] at the very rich. And that’s not something that Ukip can say.”

“But, he adds, “Equally, it is beholden on us to draw attention to what Ukip are offering, which is also pretty unattractive. It’s very important we call out any Ukip candidate who says things like this.”

In their short time in the limelight, Ukip candidates have made the offensive seem ordinary, from the councillor who believes that equal marriage causes flooding to the activist who suggested that Lenny Henry should go and live “in a black country”, and Umunna says, we “price it in”.

“There is a virus of racism running through that party,” Umunna argues, “And they don’t appear capable of rooting it as they don’t understand the problem.”

It’s not just abstract for Umunna, whose father, Bennett, arrived in Britain from Nigeria without a penny to his name before going onto become a successful businessman. “The things they say about Eastern Europeans now,” he tells me, “are no different from the things people used to say about black and Asian immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“These [Eastern Europeans] are people who contribute to our economy and our society,” Umunna says “ They’re the target of choice now, but Ukip’ll move onto another target.”

“We act as if it’s acceptable,” Umunna tells me. “And it’s not. It stands against our British values of fair play and respect for one another. And we have to call it out for what it is.”

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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