George Osborne and David Cameron during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How the Tories are trying to make it impossible for Labour to win again

Boundary changes, allowing expatriates to vote and changes to trade union funding will all hit the opposition. 

After achieving their first majority for 23 years, the Tories are determined to consolidate their advantage. The opening months of the new parliament, when the government's authority is at its greatest, provide crucial political space to do so. There are three notable ways in which the Tories are planning to tilt the system in their favour - and make it even harder for Labour to win next time.

Boundary changes

The Conservatives signalled immediately after their victory that they intended to pursue the boundary changes vetoed by the Lib Dems in 2013. Their plan to base the new constituencies on electoral registration, rather than population, means that Labour would be hit hardest. As the Electoral Reform Society has noted: "Under the current proposals urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low [and Labour usually wins] are likely to have fewer MPs per person than affluent areas where registration is high." Modelling suggests that the Tories' current majority of 12 would rise as high as 50 under the new boundaries.

Allowing expatriates to vote for life

A new Votes for Life Bill will abolish the current 15-year limit on UK expatriates voting in general elections. The Tories have presented the move as merely ending an "unfair" rule but there are political calculations at work. No age group is more likely to vote Conservative than the over-65s, who account for a disproportionate share of expatriates. The Tories finished 24 points ahead among pensioners at the election, 78 per cent of whom turned out. The extension of the franchise to the 3.3m expatriates who have lived outside of the UK for more than 15 years will give them an additional advantage over Labour. 

Forcing trade unionists to opt-in to the political levy

The Trade Unions Bill being piloted by Business Secretary Sajid Javid includes a measure consciously designed to hit funding for Labour. Under the legislation, union members will be required to opt-in to paying the political levy, rather than being automatically enrolled (and having the right to opt-out). The result, as when the change was last imposed in 1927 following the general strike, is likely to be a significant drop in subscriptions. In Northern Ireland,  where an opt-in system already exists, just 40 per cent of members contribute, compared to 8.8 per cent who opt-out in the rest of UK. 

By reducing the size of unions' political funds, which are used to support Labour among other activities, the reform will strengthen the Tories' already vast funding advantage. Labour currently receives nearly 70 per cent of its donations from the unions and the hope that its ground operation would counter the Tories' financial muscle was not borne out by the election. The unions are particularly aggrieved since political levies are already subject to 10-yearly ballots and that the Conservatives did not announce the proposal during the general election campaign. 

It took until 1946 and the Attlee government for the opt-in system to be scrapped after 1927 - the Tories' changes are designed to ensure that Labour has to wait as long this time. 

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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