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Exclusive: Conservative poll showed party would "lose seats" to the Liberal Democrats

Election strategist Lynton Crosby warned the party would lose MPs to the Lib Dems in an early election, sources say.

Against some expectations, Theresa May has kept her promise not to seek an early general election. The Prime Minister prides herself on sticking to her word and a campaign would cost valuable Brexit negotiating time. But one factor has received little attention: the increasing threat posed to the Tories by the Liberal Democrats.

Last month, Conservative MPs from Cornwall and Devon urged May not to go to the country for fear they would lose their seats. In Richmond, Tim Farron's party overturned Zac Goldsmith's 23,015 majority by attracting Remain voters and the Lib Dems have won 34 council seats from the Tories since May 2015.

The MPs' fears, I can reveal, were later reinforced by private Conservative polling. According to multiple sources, a survey conducted by Crosby Textor showed the party would lose most of the 27 gains they made from the Lib Dems in 2015, including all those in south London, all those in Cornwall and most of those in Devon. Lynton Crosby, who masterminded the party's general election triumph, is said to have personally told May of the grim findings. The Australian strategist's reappearance at CCHQ had encouraged speculation that the Prime Minister was preparing to seek an early contest. Tory MPs hope that by 2020, the scheduled date of the next election, the anger felt by Remain supporters at Brexit will have diminished.

Since their general election nadir, the Lib Dems have risen to double figures in national polling and now boast 87,000 members (more than double their low point under the coalition). Tim Farron told the New Statesman last week that only his party could deprive the Tories of their slim majority of 15 seats.

"The SNP cannot gain more than one seat off the Tories, so it can't be them ... Nobody, but nobody, thinks the Labour Party is in any position to make net gains from the Tories at all. So we are living with a Tory government for as long as we can see into the future, unless the Liberal Democrats, through our route, are able to bash the Tories to below a majority. That is the only plausible route at the moment, for Tories losing their majority.

"So I am doing progressive politics the biggest favour I can by strengthening my party, making it more attractive to people who are currently maybe Remain-voting, pro-market, moderate Conservatives, not for the protectionist wing."

A Conservative spokesman said he was unaware of the poll and that the party never comments on such matters.

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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