Continuity Miliband? Photo: Getty Images
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Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham need to show why they're not just more of the same

The same words with a different accent or gender will lead to the same result, warns Labour MP John Woodcock.

There were two moments that made my heart sink yesterday. 

One was Andy Burnham unveiling a measure on housing reminiscent of the Ed Miliband approach which saw Labour lose to a poor Tory government that will continue making Britain even more divided and unequal than it is at present.

The second was Yvette Cooper telling the audience at a hustings in Nottingham there was nothing she was prepared to say that Ed got wrong during his five years in charge. And getting a cheer. There are indeed many things that Ed got right as Labour leader, not least his determination to call out a number of vested interests and challenge the idea that entrenched inequality was a basic and unchangeable facet of modern economies.

As a person, that drive, combined with his warmth, generosity and humour brought him love and respect from Labour activists. But his basic approach failed. It led to our devastating defeat in a general election we should have won. And the causes Labour members hold dear will suffer because we fell so badly short. The scale of Labour's defeat means the leadership election has to deliver real change for the party stand a chance of winning again in 2020. All candidates have so far talked the language of change, but it is critically important that what they actually mean is properly examined.

If those who seek to take his place think the route to victory in the leadership contest is Continuity Miliband with a different accent or gender, or with a higher level of emotional connection, they will consign Labour to another defeat. If that happens, Britain will face another decade of Tory government from here, not just another five years. Under Ed's leadership, Labour too often combined tough left-wing rhetoric with policy proposals that the public simply did not think were credible.

If Andy and Yvette agree with that analysis they are choosing a funny way of showing it. Andy's latest proposal to seize houses owned by private landlords and give them to councils is precisely the kind of measure that the public just rejected at the ballot box as unworkable. Similarly, Yvette has a laudable pledge that Britain should build 300,000 new homes every year to tackle the country's chronic housing shortage. But if the public were not convinced we would fulfil our 2015 manifesto pledge to build 200,000 annually, it is not clear how simply promising an extra 100,000 will change their minds and sweep us to victory.

The reason I am backing Liz Kendall is that so far she is the only candidate who actually sounds like she is genuinely committed to changing our approach to win back those who had no love for the Conservatives, but who voted Tory because they felt we were not up to the job and were not speaking about the things that mattered to their lives. Liz shows an inspiring determination to reclaim fiscal responsibility as a Labour value combined with much greater focus on the huge inequality of life chances that still holds the country back. Her commitment to return Labour to its roots as a party that exists to hand genuine power down to communities and individuals is exactly where we need to be.

Currently, Jeremy Corbyn is getting a great reception at events with Labour members. A round of applause in a hall of activists does not necessarily translate to a majority of votes in the wider selectorate that will choose Labour's next leader. If it does then we can wave goodbye to any hope of electability for the foreseeable future.

Yet Labour will be in equally great peril if Jeremy's presence on the ballot distracts attention from the fact that two of his rivals are currently offering only superficial modifications to the Miliband approach that just consigned us to one of the worst defeats in our history. It is time to step up debate on the genuine choices that face those who will vote in this vitally important leadership election process.

John Woodcock is the Labour & Co-operative MP for Barrow & Furness and a member of Liz Kendall's leadership campaign. 

John Woodcock is the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness.

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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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