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Divides run deep in the Conservative party – could they cost Theresa May the leadership?

The division between Tory Remainers and Leavers is visceral and will not heal easily.

The knifings, hysteria, hypocrisy, posturing and dishonesty of the Tory leadership campaign have exceeded even what the party regards as par for the course. As a training ground for our public life, the Oxford Union Society has much to answer for. Talk of a coronation for Theresa May angered supporters of her two main rivals, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom. Both went to the media to stress that May was a Remainer, but the will of the people is that Britain leaves the European Union. These are early days but this reminds older Tories of the division between appeasers and re-armers in 1938-39. When R A Butler failed to persuade the party’s “magic circle” to anoint him in 1957 and in 1963, the taint of his having been an appeaser lingered still. The divisions between Remainers and Leavers are similarly visceral and will take more than a leadership election and a new prime minister to heal.

Most Tory Remainers avoid rhetoric about a second referendum, a legal challenge or hoping that Article 50 will never be invoked. But the behaviour of some in the referendum campaign has bred grudges, with the most outspoken Remainers – George Osborne, Anna Soubry and Amber Rudd are often cited – regarded as “unforgiveable” and marked for their political lives. May was not so blatant in her support for Remain, which is now being held against her as proof that she lacks the courage of her convictions and therefore leadership qualities.

The latest antagonism is over Gove’s behaviour towards Boris Johnson. The glib reaction about Gove’s “treachery”, advanced by careerists disobliged by his rival’s withdrawal (Johnson’s team had been campaigning nakedly for support in a putative leadership contest for weeks), is only one side of the argument. Gove realised that Johnson, without the Vote Leave team behind him, was fundamentally shambolic: he appeared to be offering the same cabinet jobs to various potential supporters, compounding his reputation for duplicity. The reality check that Gove imposed on Johnson was undeniably good for politics, even if not for him. More MPs than were prepared to admit it were mightily relieved and deserted, hence the evaporation of Johnson’s campaign.

This opened the door for Andrea Leadsom, a Brexiteer to her fingertips and one without the badge of an assassin. Far more socially conservative than Gove, she picked up many of Johnson’s supporters, with a further flush coming in once Johnson himself backed her, not least because she was “trustworthy”. Then the mud flew at her: her apparent benefits from some creative tax arrangements, her allegedly indifferent record as a Treasury minister (from which she was moved after a year) and her supposed sympathies with Ukip – Arron Banks, who financed Nigel Farage’s ultimately successful Leave.EU campaign, also offered to fund Leadsom. However, other Tories argue that a Ukip-friendly leader would attract many former Tory voters back to the party, thus ensuring electoral success – especially if the post-Farage Ukip implodes.

It may be hard for non-Conservatives to believe, but May’s weakness in a fight against Gove and especially against Leadsom stems from her speech as chairman to the 2002 party conference, which outraged legions of activists who resented being called heartless bigots. “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally are our sympathies,” she said. “You know what some people call us – the nasty party.” The implication was that the party had alienated the poor, ethnic minorities and homosexuals.

There certainly was an appalling deficiency of black and Asian people in the party at all levels. But the reasons for the unpopularity were more complex than May wanted to have her audience believe – rooted, her critics still believe, in the failure of the Major government to take responsibility for the humiliation of Black Wednesday in 1992. Many believe to this day that she was self-flagellating in an attempt to gain sympathy.

Leadsom has little to show for her ministerial career but many Tory MPs (and not just Leavers) regard May as an incompetent Home Secretary. Around two-thirds of Tory members favoured Leave, notably to secure border controls. May has failed to limit immigration from outside the EU. That the latest annual figure – 333,000 – was three times the level David Cameron had promised rests at her door. It is down to her, too, that Britain’s coastline is protected by only three cutters and therefore entirely porous. That 333,000 figure is not even precise: it is an estimate, because the absurdly named UK Border Force hasn’t a clue how many are entering the country.

In his recently published memoirs, the former Lib Dem minister David Laws portrayed May as rigid, controlling, uncommunicative and thoroughly dislikable. (Ken Clarke called her “a bloody difficult woman” in comments caught by a Sky camera.) Tory MPs – even some who have reluctantly backed her campaign – add other adjectives to the list. No wonder May’s supporters wanted a coronation. In the few fevered days Tory MPs have to consider which two colleagues should be put before the wider membership, scrutiny of her could barely begin. Leadsom, as a woman, invites a direct comparison and, for all her inexperience, seems brisker, warmer, more spontaneous and has the benefit of relative novelty. She was rewarded by finishing second behind May in the first round of voting by MPs.

In the days of the magic circle, May would have been in Downing Street by now, continuing her unthreatening policy of liberal conservatism. Now, having sequestered the support of MPs who dream of a chauffeur-driven car and a private office, she must endure eight weeks of relentlessly making herself attractive to the sort of Tories she once regarded as “nasty”.

Simon Heffer writes for the Telegraph

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 07 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit bunglers

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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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