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Jeremy Corbyn's policies aren't that different from Ed Miliband's or even New Labour. So why is he being attacked?

For Labour's divided tribes, the question is like the Mirror of Erised: you see what you want in it. 

Jeremy Corbyn has used the Easter recess to announce three policies: universal free school meals for primary pupils, actions to tackle late payments and a £10 minimum wage. As I wrote in today’s morning memo, they tick a lot of positive boxes for an opposition party: they unite the vast majority of the party, both in the country and in Westminster, they pick battles with high-profile enemies, increasing the chances they will be heard of by casual audiences, and they send a message about the type of party that Labour under Corbyn is.

But there’s an interesting box that they don’t all tick: that is, they can’t plausibly be said to represent a radical breach with the Labour party that came before. Universal free school meals were first piloted under the last Labour government and were included in the 2010 Labour manifesto, A Future Fair For All. Action to tackle late payments were included in Britain Can Be Better, Labour’s 2015 manifesto.

The new minimum wage policy is a big breach with New Labour, abandoning their old method of setting the statutory floor using the Low Pay Commission (a tripartite body of business, trade unions and academics), and instead picking a round and therefore-more-campaign-friendly number. But that, again, is more continuity than change with the Ed Miliband era, though the £10 has an advantage over Miliband’s proposed £8 in that it is higher than the government’s proposal. (Miliband’s policy operation was usually fairly sharp, but somehow managed to propose a wage hike that was below what the LPC would have been expected to reach by 2020.)

All of which adds to the feeling that, as I put it this time last year, Corbynism is “turbo-charged Milibandism” or “Milbandism minus dithering”.

Which considering the polls will make Corbynsceptics ask why it is they’ve bothered. That none of Corbyn’s shiny new policies would be out-of-place under, say, Yvette Cooper, adds to the private frustrations of the majority of Labour MPs and the 40 per cent of Labour members who didn’t vote for Corbyn in 2015 or 2016.

For Labour’s divided tribes, the issue is a Rorschach test. For Corbynsceptics, the leader’s unpopularity and his history of radicalism means that even ideas from the mainstream centre-left will struggle to get a hearing. For Corbynites, that even these fairly middle-of-the-road ideas are under attack is why his leadership remains a necessary counterweight to Britain’s rightward drift. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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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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