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For the Tories, this was the Brexit election – and Brexit won

Theresa May attracted Leave voters, but lost Remain Tories at the same time. 

Speaking in Nottinghamshire at the start of the 2017 election campaign, Theresa May declared that Brexit was an opportunity “to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain”. She continued: “Conservatives in government will get on with the job of delivering Brexit.”

Voters listened. At least, a significant proportion of Leave voters did. According to analysis of ICM polls by the pollster John Curtice, a senior research fellow at NatCen Social Research, at the start of the campaign, 53 per cent of Leave voters planned to vote Conservative. At the end of the campaign, 58 per cent did.

In Curtice’s analysis of constituencies where less than a quarter of voters backed Brexit, the Conservatives saw their average change in vote share slip by 2 percentage points. By contrast, in constituencies where more than half of voters backed Brexit, the Tories enjoyed an average vote share increase of 10 percentage points.

Lord Ashcroft’s polling, too, shows a six percentage point fall in support for the Tories among Remain voters, compared to 2015, but a 14 percentage point boost from those who backed Leave (the comparative boost for Labour was five points).

Curtice told me the election “was more Brexit than you might imagine at first glance”, although he believed Labour and its popular manifesto also played an important part in changing the tone of the debate.

“It is more clearly so on the Conservative side than Labour,” he said of the Brexit theme. “Labour was taking ground amongst Leave voters – it just wasn’t taking so much ground.”

Crucially, the beleaguered Tory leader Theresa May lived up to one part of her promise – that she would turn blue-collar voters into blue-party supporters as well. According to Curtice’s constituency analysis, in seats where less than a quarter of voters were professionals or managers, the Ukip collapse meant there was an average increase in vote share to the Conservatives of eight percentage points, but only a 2.4 percentage point increase for Labour.

By contrast, in seats dominated by this better off group, Labour was the bigger beneficiary. The Ashcroft Polls also show Conservative support slipping among the AB income group, but growing most significantly among C2 and DEs.

If Labour and the Tories seem to be playing swapsies with their voter bases, there is an explanation – age. Curtice estimates up to two thirds of young voters chose Labour: “Age is important in a way it has never been before.” It has, he believes, replaced class as the key determinant of how someone will vote. Young voters were also the most likely to vote Remain.

So what does this mean for the new parliament? The Brexit case has been made and unmade. Made, by the fact May now relies on a diminished Tory party supported by Leave voters, which explains why she has appointed Steve Baker, up until now mainly known for his arch-Leave WhatsApp group, a Brexit minister. And yet also unmade by the defection of Tory Remain voters expected to put up and shut up rather than accept the previously unpopular Jeremy Corbyn.  

The data we have so far on the election result is torchlight in the dark, rather than microscopic vision (much of Curtice’s analysis is based on polls conducted throughout the campaign), but nevertheless it suggests that the divisions created by Brexit will haunt this parliament, or - if the internal Tory contradictions prove too much for May to govern - the next.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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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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