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Jeremy Corbyn quotes Enver Hoxha at Labour party Christmas party

The Labour leader quoted the Albanian dictator at the party's Christmas bash, who he dubbed "a tough leader".

Jeremy Corbyn stunned attendees at Labour's staff Christmas party by quoting Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who served as chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces from 1944 until his death in 1985. 

Dubbing Hoxha a "tough ruler", Corbyn quoted Hoxha's phrase that "this year will be tougher than last year". Hoxha is believed to have imprisoned, tortured or executed at least 100,000 Albanians during his reign. 

The party - thrown for both current staff and veterans of the 2015 election campaign - was stunned by the remarks, which will raise memories of John McDonnell's decision to quote Mao Zedong's Little Red Book in the House of Commons. One attendee described the reaction as "awkward laughter". Others had to Google the autocrat, who is a relatively-obscure figure in Britain. The row over Mao overshadowed Conservative U-Turns on cuts to tax credits and the social security budget.

Others defended Corbyn, however. One staffer said that "he was trying his best to speak to a room of people who he will never like or trust and who will never like or trust him".  The remark is believed to have been in jest.

UPDATE 10/12/2015:

Simon Mirakaj, head of the Albanian Institute of Formerly Persecuted People, has been in touch with the New Statesman. Mirakaj, who was personally imprisoned for 44 years, described Hoxha as leaving an "unhealed wound" on Albanian society, who "filled the streets of Albania with tears and blood" and condemned the joke.

"In my family, the 'tough leader' sentenced us together to 950 years [in aggregate] of prison, forced labour camps and executions. [In Albania] there are 6000 people executed with and without a judicial process and we still haven't found their graves, we have had 30,000 political prisoners and 200,000 people put in labour camps." 

That the remark was intended as a joke recieved short shrift from Mirakaj. He said: "In September 2014 our country was visited by Pope Francis. This was his first visit in Europe. He didn’t choose Albania as a developed country. He chose Albania for the reason this country suffered most during communism."

"There is no bigger insult for the Catholic Church," he added, "That in a Christmas party a name of a dictator such as Enver Hoxha is quoted." 

It remains Labour party policy not to comment on private gatherings. 

I'm grateful to ABC's Vincent Triest, who put Simon Mirakaj in touch with the New Statesman. 

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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