It's not dark yet. But it's getting there. Photo: Getty Images
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This is the true end of New Labour

Ed Miliband's political project was to bury New Labour. Today he succeeds, but not in the way he'd have wished.

Be careful what you wish for. Ed Miliband wanted to turn the page on New Labour, and today he gets what he asked for: figures showing the first rise in poverty for a decade – part of a trajectory that the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts will put child poverty back at the level it was in 1997.

“The era of New Labour has passed,” Miliband declared shortly after he was elected as Labour leader. How right he was. Over the last five years, the Educational Maintenance Allowance (introduced 2004, which gave 270,000 students from low income backgrounds £30 a week in sixth form) has been scrapped. The Health in Pregnancy Grant (designed to prevent malnourishment during pregnancy, introduced 2009), abolished. Building Schools for the Future (the clue is in the title, introduced 2004), mothballed.

The tide will continue to come in for New Labour over the next five years. In 1998, Tony Blair pledged to eliminate child poverty by 2020. By the time Labour left office, more than a million children had been lifted out of poverty. But, far from completing that mission in 2020, by that point, it will be as if New Labour had never existed, had never taken office. Now, tax credits – Gordon Brown’s biggest contribution to tackling the problem of working poverty – will be scaled back. SureStart (1998) may well be shuttered or, at the least, cut back to a point where it might as well never have opened to begin with.
This isn’t the prelude to one of those “the wicked Tories” articles, not least because the Internet – and, indeed, The Staggers – is well-stocked with those as it is. And if the Left proved anything over the last half-decade, it’s this: you cannot condemn your way to a parliamentary majority. Increasingly shrill warnings about the awfulness of Conservatism from Ed Miliband and Co. not only failed to prevent a Tory majority, but ushered in a defeat that has put Labour on its back, potentially at least another ten years.

It’s this: considering that today’s deprivation is largely the result in cuts to Blair-Brown era spending, perhaps those 13 years weren’t quite the busted flush that many on the Left seem to think. For all Clement Attlee lives on as the avatar of a better socialism, the British state, after a full decade of George Osborne at the Treasury, will still be significantly larger than Attlee’s. In 1951, when Attlee left office, the state consisted of a military desperately trying to secure a global status it could no longer afford, a ring-fenced NHS on the verge of crisis, and a welfare settlement that left many people, particularly women, out in the cold. Frankly, there are moderate members of David Cameron’s government who would look at the British state in 1951 and find it excessively cruel.

Does that matter? Well, as Labour is almost halfway through a debate about what it stands for and where it goes next, it’s probably worth remembering that the cuts that illustrate the consequences and the depth of its failure in May are largely to services implemented in their so-called “Tory-lite” phase.  Perhaps that should give some of the people suggesting that Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, or Andy Burnham “just join the Tories” pause for thought. 

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.

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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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