David Miliband. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: how the Queen feels about the missing Milibrother

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

Theresa May’s dash to the polls has helped her avoid a clash with a Michael Gove, who remains in favour of better grammar, not more grammar schools. The former education secretary privately opposes the return of selection, but if he keeps quiet in the campaign, he could be recalled to the cabinet.

Gove has moved into his own “No 10”, purchasing a west London home with that number and a black door to complete the Downing Street look. He is rueful about his past friendship with David Cameron. The pair have exchanged only a few words in a Commons brush-past since the Brexit referendum.

A reflective Gove concludes that he never really fitted in among Cameron’s Notting Hell set. Old school ties stretched long into the Old Etonian premier’s circle, and Gove’s Scottish minor public school created a class barrier. May’s loyalty test in June will determine Gove’s fate.

She’s pretty ruthless, May – as Labour discovered with the snap election. The whisper in Downing Street is that she is considering binning the minor minister Stephen O’Brien. The Brit at the UN is anonymous as undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, and May feels that her government enjoys insufficient credit for a £12bn foreign aid budget. One of the names in the frame to replace him is Andrew Mitchell, who at least did a good job as international development secretary. Mitchell – once the Whitehall boss of Stephen Who? – is keen to escape the long shadow of Plebgate.

Disapproving muttering is heard about the “big idea” of the Today programme’s new editor, Sarah Sands, for BBC Radio 4’s establishment bulletin. Robert Peston may or may not hanker for a return from ITV to a presenter’s mic on the BBC’s flagship show. The current melodious voices insist that there is no vacancy, unless John Humphrys, 73, fancies a lie-in, or is finally winkled out.

David Miliband, a member  of Labour’s lost leaders’ club, is revelling in speculation that he could save the party from Jeremy Corbyn. But he didn’t win the royal seal of approval as foreign secretary. A prominent snout recalled that the Queen asked if the elder Milibrother possessed the “experience” for the post, after economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin banned a Scottish pipe band from travelling to Russia.

The name of Bill Jordan was curiously missing when a trio of former senior figures in the unions that gave birth to Unite signed a letter backing Gerard Coyne against Len McCluskey. The former president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union is Coyne’s father-in-law. Perhaps Baron Jordan was considered too close to the well-connected Coyne’s home, given McCluskey’s flat has featured in the campaign. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

Photo: Getty
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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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