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George Osborne mocks Theresa May's immigration problem

The former chancellor says in an Evening Standard editorial that no senior cabinet ministers back the net migration target - and he's right.

George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard has certainly enlivened the paper's leaders. Yesterday's compared Leave voters to a "duped drunk in a strip club" and admitted that the coalition underfunded schools and hospitals (yes, the chancellor was one Mr Osborne).

Today's takes aim at Theresa May's vow to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year (which will be reaffirmed in tomorrow's Conservative manifesto). "You would assume that Mrs May would jump at the chance to bury the pledge," it reads. "That’s what her Cabinet assumed; none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief. But no. Mrs May has kept digging."

Yet Osborne - still smarting from his ruthless sacking last year - is actually too generous to May. Senior cabinet ministers have opposed the pledge in public, not only in private. Last July, Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd both suggested that the target should be abandoned before being slapped down by No.10. Philip Hammond (whose position May refused to guarantee this morning) and Liam Fox have publicly argued that students should be excluded from the total - another concession the Prime Minister has refused to make.

As chancellor, Osborne was one of many cabinet ministers to privately oppose the pledge. "Sometimes, I think only Theresa and I actually believe in our immigration policy," David Cameron complained to his cabinet. The then home secretary was undermined by colleagues (including Osborne) who opposed her efforts to reduce student visas and work permits.

Contrary to some expectations, she has doubled-down on the target as prime minister. Not only does May sincerely believe in the pledge (which would reduce net migration - currently 273,000 - to a level not seen since 1997), it is also a valuable political shield against Ukip (whose voters the Tories have been hoovering up).

But meeting the target is another matter. As I've written before, Brexit is teaching the UK why it needs migrants. The UK’s vote to leave the EU has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

David Davis, for instance, has said: "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants ... The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

By the time of the next election in 2022, the Conservatives will have missed their net migration pledge for more than a decade. But if past form is any guide, that won't stop it being repeated in their manifesto.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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