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Momentum-backed Rhea Wolfson's NEC failure could damage the Labour right in the long term

Moderates may have stopped the left wing candidate getting a place, but they will suffer for it in future.

Labour’s rulebook is an arcane document so full of clauses and subclauses it is hard to make sense of. But this week it also became a ruthlessly wielded weapon. But will this backfire on former MP Jim Murphy and the Labour right?

The NEC is the Labour party’s governing body. While it doesn’t set policy (theoretically, that’s done by the National Policy Forum but in reality its most done by the leader’s office and the shadow cabinet) it holds huge influence over how the party is governed including the current highly contentious matter of suspensions and expulsions.

The NEC is made up of representatives from trade unions, socialist societies and six constituency reps who are elected by party members to serve two year terms – though there is no term limit. The vote is usually highly factional, slugged out as it is between the left and right wings of the party for control with independents rarely fairing well – though this has changed somewhat recently.

To be elected you have to be nominated by your home CLP and at least two others.

The left wing slate is hoping to do well this year riding the wave of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. However, it got off to a rocky start as one member of the slate was Ken Livingstone, whose suspension made him ineligible to run. He was immediately replaced by a young Jewish woman called Rhea Wolfson. Given Livingstone has been accused of antisemitism, Wolfson’s Judaism was a positive for her candidacy and as such she was supported by the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership and the left more widely on this issue. She was also backed by Momentum, the organisation set up in the wake of Corbyn’s spectacular leadership bid.

But last night, the wheels came off Wolfson’s campaign when her home CLP failed to nominate her. In a statement published on Facebook, Wolfson claims that former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy personally intervened to stop her candidacy, arguing that her constituency shouldn’t back a Momentum-supported candidate as they have a “problem with antisemitism”.

Some on the hard left have claimed that concerns about antisemitism are baseless and made up. They aren't. But to use those concerns as a weapon (if, indeed, this story turns out to be true) against a Jewish woman with a strong record of fighting antisemitism fuels just that sentiment. To fight conspiracy theories, it helps if you don't publicly conspire.

Organisationally, Wolfson messed up. Getting the nomination of your home seat should be nailed on. A candidate shouldn’t even begin to think of standing unless they know they could guarantee that, and it should never be assumed. But the bigger question is what the impact of this move will be politically.

In the short term, this is a quite obvious win for the Labour right. There will be one fewer candidate from their opposing slate making it more likely they will have one of their candidates elected in her place.

However, this short term win may come to haunt them. A precedent has now been set and the right will have absolutely no leg to stand on if it finds one of its own candidates blocked in a similar way the next time these seats are contested. Equally, while this is all perfectly within the rules, it smacks of all the factional infighting that has contributed enormously to Scottish Labour’s current parlous state. It doesn’t give onlookers like myself confidence that the right lessons about being an outward facing party are being learned from either left or right.

Ultimately, it is power that counts and a two-year stint on the NEC is a prize worth having. A political calculation has clearly been made that the appearance of the thing matters less than the outcome and the short term win is worth any long term pain. That may well be true. These are extraordinary times, and the NEC will be at the heart of the battle for Labour’s soul over the coming years. With this move Labour’s centrists have shown they still have some muscle to flex and are very much willing to do so.

*For transparency, I will not be voting for any slate of candidates but will pick and choose according to the qualities I believe are needed. I am publicly endorsing only one candidate – Johanna Baxter.

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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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