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The Beckett Report won't help Labour win the next election

There is something for everyone in Margaret Beckett's autopsy into Labour's defeat.. 

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Mirror of Erised shows everyone what it is they most desire. Margaret Beckett's 35-page report into Labour's surprise defeat in 2015 serves a similar function: every bit of the Labour party will have something it can cling to.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will take heart from the fact that individual left-wing policies, like the mansion tax, were popular. But Corbyn-sceptics will note that it was voters that went for Tony Blair and David Cameron that failed to back the party in 2015, which they will take as an endorsement of a centrist approach. Ed Miliband's diehard supporters - they do exist, believe it or not - will see the report as an endorsement of the Miliband era policy approach but will argue that a more convincing frontman would have sealed the deal. 

Nor does the report offer a particularly useful way forward for Labour. A failure to win trust on "issues of connection" ie. welfare and immigration is blamed in part for the defeat - but whether that involves a harsher tone or "winning the argument" for either high immigration, higher social security or both is left unclear. Labour divides into four quarters on this: those who believe that the party must be unapologetically for both, those who believe that tighter controls on immigration will allow a more generous welfare state, those who believe the reverse, and those who believe that a rethink is required on both policy areas. None of these groups can say with any honesty that the Beckett Report provides them with any clarity as to which approach to pursue.

As for the question of whether to "defend the record", that, too, remains uncertain. This is as much a divide of attitude as left versus right. Ed Miliband, who led Labour from the soft left, believed that he could turn the page on New Labour and therefore escape the consequences of the 2007 financial crisis, a view he shared with Blairites who believed a "clean skin" from the 2010 intake, such as Chuka Umunna, was needed to win in 2020. But, equally, that Miliband doomed himself by not defending the record sufficiently is one shared by Labour figures as diverse as Peter Mandelson and Owen Jones. We know from the Beckett Report that Labour suffered the blame for the financial crisis - we're no closer to knowing whether it was a failure to sufficiently distance the Labour brand from the 1997-2010 period or to mount a compelling defence of it that was the problem. 

No part of Labour can feel confident in their analysis of 2015 - or in their take on the best way forward for 2020. 

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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