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Emission impossible?

Ed Miliband will need all the political skills he can muster to get a deal in Copenhagen

Would Ed Miliband swap the life of a leading cabinet minister for that of a street activist? There was a revealing moment in New Delhi at the start of this month when he said in an aside that he sometimes had the "fantasy" of doing so. The Climate Change Secretary was contemplating the need for people around the world to mobilise and lobby politicians before December's make-or-break global warming summit in Copenhagen.

His partner on the south Asia tour, the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, often says that "these negotiations are far too important to be left to the negotiators"; a mass movement of support is needed to achieve change. As Franklin D Roosevelt once told a group of reformers: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

Indeed, the hazards of international negotiations were demonstrated in New Delhi, where initial talks were conducted in the shadow of the US's crude demand that India - one of the fastest-growing nations in the developing world - cut carbon emissions in a way industrialised countries never did. As Miliband pointed out to me, between 1850 and 2000, 60 per cent of global carbon emissions came from the US and the EU.

“It was hard going at first," said one diplomatic source. But then there was a transformation with the arrival of Jairam Ramesh, Miliband's new opposite number, who until India's most recent general election in May was a commerce minister, responsible for some of the country's major economic reforms. Ramesh, who seems to have become Miliband's new best friend, is going to be one to watch in future talks.

A former student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 55-year-old has in recent years been a key adviser to Sonia Gandhi, leader of the governing Congress party. In July, after a heavy-handed approach by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, he told her: "There is simply no case for the pressure that we [India] - who have among the lowest emissions per capita - face to reduce emissions."

In contrast, the British ministerial duo were careful not to be "prescriptive" as they walked a fine tightrope in Delhi, according to those close to the discussions. So much so that occasionally it was not entirely clear what the UK was pushing for.

But the softly-softly approach seems to have worked. On the same day as the talks, India published a document, described as "crucial" by the Brits, projecting between 2.8 and five tonnes of carbon dioxide per person in 2031, plus an estimate of India's current per-capita emissions at 1.2 tonnes - below the current four-tonne global average.

India is also "skipping" some of the usual stages of development: in Kolkata, the ministers visited a housing complex run on solar power. The country is heading towards 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. It will make fuel efficiency standards mandatory from 2011 for all cars. And it already generates 8 per cent of its power from renewable energies - again surpassing Britain.

Miliband returned from India "hugely impressed" with its grasp of the crisis and the need for action. Alexander told me: "My sense is that India wants to be part of the solution . . . For millions of poor people around the world, the coming weeks are not so much a window of opportunity as a window of necessity."

But the task is far from easy, and the stakes could not be higher. As the ministers pointed out to me on the trip, it is dangerous to
assume there is a "plan B". Much as he may dream of being an activist and not a politician, Miliband, as Britain's lead negotiator on climate change, will need all the political skills he can muster to get a deal in December.


As well as leading the fight for a deal in Copenhagen, Ed Miliband doubles up as the man behind Labour's manifesto for next year's general election. It is debatable which is the harder job: bridging the gap between the developed and developing worlds on carbon emissions, or devising fresh policies for a fourth Labour term. But Miliband is optimistic about both. "The manifesto is going well," he told me, gazing out of a plane window on the south Asia trip. "The truth is that, despite all the difficulties, Labour has the ideas - whether about social care, climate change, equality - that will raise standards and make a difference to people's lives." In contrast, "There is real pressure on the Tories, who either have nothing to say or say more of the same." Meanwhile, one main manifesto commitment from 1997 remains frustratingly unfulfilled: that of a referendum on electoral reform.

Will Miliband, a natural constitutional reformer, advocate such a vote? It would be an electrifying - and potentially game-changing - gamble. But Downing Street sources say the Prime Minister has yet to be convinced.


A survey by the National Army Museum to coincide with the opening of its "Conflicts of Interest" exhibition, looking at the role of the British armed forces since 1969, delivers a blow to neoconservatives and liberal interventionists. A clear majority of the 2,000 people questioned believe British troops should never have been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, and only 5 per cent "strongly" agree with UK involvement in those conflicts. Meanwhile, more than 71 per cent see the army's prime role as "defence of British territory and British citizens". Current and future defence secretaries, take note.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Where next?

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.