Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Photo: Getty
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Nick Clegg resigns as Lib Dem leader. Who will replace him?

Tim Farron is the most likely candidate.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. In his statement, he made a passionate defence of his party's record in government, saying that "There can be no down that the government of Britain is far stronger . . . and more liberal country than it was five years ago." He went on to say: "I hope at least our losses can be endured with a little dignity."

It was a terrible night for the Lib Dems, who have seen their parliamentary party dwindle from 57 seats to just 8. They lost some longstanding MPs and big hitters - Simon Hughes, Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Lynne Featherstone. As pundits have been saying ad nauseam all night, in coalition it’s always the little party that gets smashed.

Now that Clegg has gone, who will lead the much-reduced Lib Dems? There are two likely candidates:

Tim Farron

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale was one of the few Lib Dems to have a good election night - he defied the national swing against his party and was re-elected for his north-west constituency with a nearly 9,000-strong majority.  He’s been considered as the likely next leader for a while now (he served as party president 2011 - 2014), even though he’s a very different kind of politician to Nick Clegg. As George Eaton wrote after spending the day with Farron in March:

Farron is neither politically nor personally close to Nick Clegg, his party's leader. Indeed, perhaps no two senior Lib Dem figures are less alike. One is left-leaning, northern (Farron grew up in Preston), comprehensive-educated, Christian and folksy, the other is right-leaning, southern, privately-educated, atheist and technocratic. It is unsurprising that Farron was chosen to play Nigel Farage during Clegg’s preparation for his debates with the Ukip leader: the pair are natural antagonists.

The party is bound to feel like they need a change of direction in order to put the toxicity of their coalition years behind them, making Farron the most likely successor to Clegg.

Norman Lamb

A slightly longer shot for the leadership would be Norman Lamb, the MP for Norfolk North since 2001. He managed a majority of 4,000 this time. Lamb  is more closely associated with Nick Clegg and the coalition years than Farron, as he served as a minister since 2012 and was even Clegg’s PPS for a while. But he has impressed in his role as minister of state for care and support, talking a lot of sense on the looming elderly care crisis and spearheading their work on mental health. He’s from the right of the party, a so-called Orange-Booker, and is respected in Westminster by colleagues and the media. He represents continuity for the party - he would continue the “Clegg Project”, if there is such a thing.

But given how badly things have gone for the Lib Dems in this election, the party’s activists are surely going to want a chance of direction. Enter Tim Farron.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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