Shadow health secretary and Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham speaks at the party's conference in 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Burnham confirms frontrunner status as he gains eight new MP supporters

Labour leadership candidate becomes the first to formally pass the nominations threshold of 35. 

Andy Burnham has cemented his status as the frontrunner in the Labour leadership election by gaining eight new backers. The endorsements, all from MPs elected in 2015, mean that the shadow health secretary has become the first candidate to formally pass the nominations threshold of 35. His latest supporters are Peter Dowd, Louise Haigh, Harry Harpham, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Rachael Maskell, Justin Madders, Angela Rayner, Nick Thomas-Symonds. An aide to Burnham pointed to the endorsements from the newest generation of MPs as evidence that he was "the real change candidate" in the contest and emphasised their political diversity. Earlier this week, two other 2015ers, Anna Turley and Conor McGinn announced their support for him in a piece on The Staggers. 

Burnham's main opponent Liz Kendall currently has 21 public endorsements, while Yvette Cooper has 31 and Mary Creagh has five. Both Kendall and Cooper are certain to make the ballot but Creagh is unlikely to do so unless she is lent supporters by rival camps. Speaking on the race, Burnham said:  "We need to go straight to the difficult issues as to why Labour lost the election. I'm not just running a leadership campaign, I'm building a campaign for Labour to win in 2020. If we're going to do that we're going to have to face head on those difficult issues around spending, immigration, benefits and our relationship with business.

"Don't copy the Tories, we need to develop Labour answers in those areas. We've got the looming European referendum, it's time for Labour to get off the back foot on immigration and challenge David Cameron to develop a package that the British public can support, where people are free to work but not free to claim." His warning that Labour must not "copy the Tories" is a veiled attack on Kendall, who has supported free schools, backed higher defence spending and strongly defended the use of private providers by the NHS. On the Andrew Marr Show earlier today, Cooper similarly cautioned Labour against "swallowing" the Conservative manifesto. 

While it's MPs' nominations that will receive most attention until the deadline of 15 June, Labour's newly adopted one-member-one-vote system means that their support counts for much less than in the past (when they accounted for a third of the electoral college). If she wins over activists, Kendall could yet triumph with the backing of only a small minority of her colleagues.  

George Eaton is political editor of 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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