Ukip will be toasting these
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Why Labour’s anti-immigration mugs are a boon to Ukip

Not everyone is unhappy about Labour's anti-immigration mugs. Ukip are very, very happy.

Ed Miliband describes himself as a different sort of politician. This guy is different: he under-promises and over-delivers.

But evidently not when it comes to immigration. “Controls on immigration,” reads that mug. “I’m voting Labour.” There is plenty to object to about the mug, as Stephen has brilliantly explained. And there is another dimension too: it is a Ukip dream - “comedy gold,” as a senior Ukip source puts it.

The reason is simple. Any discussion of immigration helps Ukip, by raising the salience of the issue in voters’ minds – “it is our key breakout issue,” the Ukip figure says.

Talking about immigration legitimises Ukip. If even the political class accepts that immigration is such a problem, voters might think, Ukip really do have a point. If you are right to worry about immigration and feel let down by the last Labour government not imposing transition controls on Eastern Europe in 2004, and equally angry about the Conservative Party’s spectacular failure to make good on David Cameron’s promise to reduce immigration to “tens of thousands” then voting for Ukip seems completely rational. As Ed Miliband is opposed to a referendum on the current terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union, Labour’s stance is even more muddled. A vote for Labour is now a vote to address the ‘problem’ of immigration – except it’s one that, because the party does not want out of the EU, it is admitting that it cannot address. It’s the sort of slapdash policy that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, preventing opposition parties from being caught cold about the date of an election, should have consigned to history.

As I have argued before, the way to tackle Ukip lies in compelling policies to address education, housing and jobs: convince the electorate that you can tackle these problems, and clamping down on immigration seems altogether less pressing. Belatedly the message has got to the Conservative Party. When David Cameron outlined his six priorities in January immigration was conspicuous by its absence. Ukip have not nosedived since (the reasons for their success go much deeper than immigration) but the party’s support has ticked down as it has received less publicity. It is a lesson that whoever produced Labour’s anti-immigration mugs has not learned.

But the real boon to Ukip might not be in five weeks but in five years. Ukip will not win many seats this May, but the party could come second in up to 100 constituencies, giving it a base from which to launch a further electoral assault at the next election – the “2020 strategy”.

Most of Ukip’s second placed finishes will be in seats that Labour wins, especially in the north. Five years of a Miliband government – ideally, for Ukip purposes, propped up by the SNP – could create a perfect storm for Ukip. If the economy struggles, it will invite more Labour voters to defect.

Obviously Labour will hope that this scenario does not materialise. Yet a thriving economy will – perversely - leave Labour open to fresh attack from Ukip. If the economy ticks up, it is certain that, just as has happened in the last two years, immigration will rise with it; a rising number of immigrants are both a cause and effect of economic growth.

So if Labour can go into the next election able to prove that the apocalyptic fears of the economy under Ed Miliband did not materialise, they will still have stoked up trouble for themselves. Miliband’s Labour will join the burgeoning list of UK political parties to over-promise and under-deliver on immigration. Ukip, we can be sure, will not be shy to remind voters – and Labour will have further cause to regret failing to challenge the rightward shift on immigration this Parliament. Those mugs could cost Labour this May and far beyond.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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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