Boris Johnson's MP duties seem to have stopped him attending Pope Francis's climate change summit. Photos: Getty
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Has Boris Johnson snubbed the Pope?

The Mayor of London is missing a meeting of the world's mayors at the Vatican to discuss climate change with the Pope. Why?

The Pope has invited the world's mayors to a two-day meeting, beginning Tuesday this week, to discuss his new favourite subject: climate change.

Following his landmark encyclical on the environment last month, in which he warned us of “serious consequences for all” if humanity fails to act on climate change, Pope Francis has invited mayors of cities around the world to meet at the Vatican to discuss the fight against global warming.

There are over 60 attendees, including such high-profile figures as the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, and the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. The full list of attendees and programme is available here.

The mayor of London Boris Johnson was invited to attend, specifically to participate in a workshop on modern slavery and climate change, and a Symposium on Cities and Sustainable Development, at the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences on 21 and 22 July. But he isn't there, and nor has his office sent a GLA representative in his place.

A City Hall spokesperson explains his absence:

The Mayor was unable to attend the Vatican’s events this week due to diary constraints. He is however delighted that the Vatican is highlighting the issues of climate change and modern slavery, and congratulates Pope Francis on his initiatives in this area. Addressing the challenge of climate change is one of the Mayor’s key priorities and he has led the world in city-based efforts to reduce emissions, including his announcement of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone in central London to be introduced in 2020.

Although it is unclear what Johnson's diary constraints were specifically, he was present at the late Welfare Bill vote in parliament the night before the conference, in his capacity as Tory MP for Uxbridge. And an insider tells me he also has Commons commitments on Tuesday, the first day of the conference.

His non-attendance at the Vatican, depriving London of a representative at a global mayoral meeting about tackling climate change, suggests two things. The first is that climate change is not a priority (as the comment from his spokesperson denies). And the second is that his duties as an MP are clashing with his mayoral commitments, and he has been compelled to pursue the former over the latter, which will only add to the characterisation of Johnson by his detractors as a "part-time mayor".

The only UK delegates at the conference are the Bristol mayor George Ferguson, and the Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd.

Ferguson, known for his green credentials, spoke at the conference this afternoon about what Bristol is doing to reduce carbon emissions. He wouldn't comment on Johnson's absence, but is clearly aware of how useful an event like this can be, and urges all city mayors to join the conversation:

I regard it as a great honour for Bristol to have been invited to address this vitally important conference, hosted by the Pope at the Vatican. Cities are at the frontline of climate change in terms of both problems and solutions, and I implored all city leaders to unite on the related issues of poverty, modern slavery and climate change.

De Blasio has used the Vatican summit to make a pledge to cut New York carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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David Cameron’s speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.