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Labour pledges to improve access to arts and culture for working class children

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher warns of increasing exclusion since 2010.

Working class children are increasingly excluded from the arts and culture, shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher has warned, pledging to make the issue a "priority" for Labour. In an interview with the New Statesman, the Barnsley East MP highlighted statistics showing the gap in participation between working class pupils and those from affluent backgrounds. Research by Ipsos MORI found that 70 per cent of children from non-graduate families spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity, compared to more than three hours a week for 80 per cent of those from graduate families. 

Dugher said the Conservatives had exacerbated the problem by reducing arts teacher training places and abolishing Creative Partnerships (which brought musicians, artists and actors to classrooms) with a fall of a third in the number of primary school children taking part in cultural and arts activities. The number of teachers in this area has fallen by 11 per cent since 2010. A report by the Royal Schools of Music exam board found that 40 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds had never played an instrument and said they had no opportunity to learn at school. The same report found that 74 per cent of children from affluent backgrounds had instrumental lessons - individually or in class groups - compared to 55 per cent from disadvantaged social groups. Only half of primary school music teachers surveyed last year by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation said they had the resources needed for music education. 

Dugher said: "There’s a massive, massive problem out there and it disproportionately hurts people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As someone who came from a working class background, who represents a very working class constituency, I think how we make sure that we’re doing everything we can to improve access to arts and culture for working class people is a massive priority."

He pledged that Labour's review of arts and culture investment, announced at this year's conference, would examine:

- National and local funding options to ensure that every child can learn an instrument and have a creative education.

-  How to make creative education more of a priority for school inspectors.

- How to ensure schools in disadvantaged areas forge better links with local cultural organisations and increase the work experience opportunities offered to working class children. 

Dugher also said he would examine making public funding "absolutely conditional" on arts organisations improving access for working class children. The outreach programmes would then be reviewed and audited every year to ensure the targets are being met. The rewards from increasing access, Dugher said, were high. Data shows that 40 per cent of 16-year-olds who engage in the arts and culture perform above average in school tests and are more likely to go on to university. 

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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