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Middle-class university graduates will decide the future of the Labour Party

Three-quarters of Labour Party members are ABC1 voters.

We don’t yet know whether it will be Angela Eagle or Owen Smith, or maybe both of them, who ends up running against Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.  But what we do know – because we reckon we now know lot about the people who will vote in that ballot – is that any challenger is going to have their work cut out.

We surveyed Labour members just after the 2015 General Election, and then ran a second survey in May this year so we could capture those who joined the party after the election.

Now, for the first time, we’ve put those two surveys together in order to come up with a pen-portrait of those people who, because they were members before the NEC’s February cut-off date, will therefore be eligible to vote over the summer. You can find the more detailed figures here.

Labour’s grassroots members will almost certainly make up the bulk of those who choose the party’s leader over the summer. So what do they look like? And how do they think?

By our reckoning, Labour’s leadership contest is going to be decided, for the most part, by less than 400,000 mainly middle-class university graduates. Nearly half of these members – unlike many of Labour’s voters – live in London and the South of England.  Some 75 per cent of Labour members are ABC1 voters, and 57 per cent of them have a degree.  Around 15 per cent live in London and 32 per cent live in other parts of the South of England.  Only 28 per cent live in the party’s northern heartlands and 20 per cent in Wales and the Midlands, where (think, Nuneaton) any party wanting to win a general election desperately needs to win over voters.

Because a relatively large proportion of those who joined the party after the general election were women, the Labour membership has become a little more gender balanced, with a 55:45 male/female split.  The average age, however, hasn’t changed much: it’s still 51.

That might have something to do with the fact that roughly a third of the post-election joiners had been Labour members previously. Many of them appear to have returned after leaving in the New Labour era. They may possibly have replaced some of those who left the party because they didn’t like the direction it was taking under Corbyn.

Those voting in Labour’s leadership contest are socially very, very liberal. Only 22 per cent believe law-breakers should be given stiffer sentences and only 10 per cent support the death penalty. Some 84 per cent back gay marriage.  They are also very positive about immigration. On a seven-point scale running from immigration being bad for the economy (1) to it being good for the economy (7), they score it at 5.74.  On a similar scale which asks about the cultural benefits of immigration they come up, spookily enough, with exactly the same score.

On economic issues, it’s as if Blair and Brown (or at least the "neoliberal" Blair and Brown of the left’s imagination) never existed. Labour’s grassroots members are almost unanimous in favouring redistribution (92 per cent), in distrusting big business (94 per cent) and in believing that government public spending cuts have gone too far (95 per cent). 

Asked to place themselves on a left to right scale running from one to ten, the average Labour member locates him or herself at 2.17.  Nearly one in ten members voted Green in 2015 – something that was notably more common among those who joined the party after that general election. Irrespective of when they joined, however, eight out of ten wanted the UK to remain in the European Union.

When asked what they’re looking for in a leader, Labour’s members are not unduly concerned with a leader’s ability to radiate strength and authority, or his or her capacity to unite the nation. Only around a third of them put a premium on having a leader who can appeal to the average voter. Interestingly, though, this did matter more to those who were already members by the time of the 2015 general election than those who joined after it.

Ultimately, what matters more to Labour members, it seems, is having a leader who, as well as being a good communicator, is in touch with ordinary people and has strong political beliefs – something that is especially true for those who joined after rather than before the last general election.

Whether Jeremy Corbyn or either of his challengers can tick all of these boxes is, we suspect, in the eye of the beholder.  Still, given who Labour members are and how they think, we suspect Mr Corbyn is going to be awfully hard to beat.

 

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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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