Stella Creasy: ‘‘The left gives up far too easily sometimes. We get too grumpy’’

The Labour MP answers the NS Centenary Questionnaire.

What is the most important invention of the past 100 years?

Medically, I would say probably IVF and transplant surgery. Our capacity to regenerate ourselves and our capacity not just to fix but to address health problems to give people hope is phenomenal. I guess the internet is the obvious candidate in terms of overall transformative capacity. And it’s still evolving all the time. Can you believe that Tony Blair didn’t send a single text message while he was prime minister?

And scientific invention?

I’d say the Higgs boson and also DNA, as we should recognise the input of Rosalind Franklin. It’s so important to me to understand the fabric of life.

And sporting event?

You could trace back to the 1913 Derby and Emily Wilding Davison. Or perhaps the 1972 Olympics, the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, or the Olympics of 1968 with the Black Power salute. And then, of course, there are the 2012 Olympics.

Which book, film or work of art had the greatest effect on you?

One of my very favourite films of all time is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I love that film. There’s something about it a bit like Some Like It Hot – people get away with things, whereas usually people in films get their comeuppance. There’s a great line from Ferris Bueller that I use too much in politics: “Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.”

Who is the most influential and significant politician of the past 100 years?

Evan Durbin – a Labour politician who sadly died saving a child from drowning [in 1948], and therefore never had the opportunity to realise his potential. It is a tragedy for us as the left to have lost him. He could have been an amazing character in our history. The left gives up far too easily sometimes, I think. We get too grumpy – well, I mean we get frustrated.

And the most influential writer?

Philip Larkin. That makes me sound like I was a really depressed teenager.

And artist?

Antony Gormley. He has really pushed contemporary art’s boundaries to people in a way that is very accessible. There is a pomposity sometimes about [British] art. His work is very meaningful in a very humble way.

How about anyone in business?

Henry Ford, clearly. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, too, because, within a generation, they revolutionised the world.

And a sportsperson?

Would you count [the skydiver] Felix Baumgartner as a sportsman? That was just amazing; when you look back at somebody training to jump from the edge of space, it is quite overwhelmingly inspiring.

And the most important philanthropist?

George Soros or Bill Gates. I think Soros is very interesting – consciously and ideologically – whereas Gates is well-meaning, but less overtly political about the choices that he makes.

Do you have a favourite quotation?

Apart from the one from Ferris Bueller? I have a lot. There’s Harold Wilson: “We are a moral crusade or nothing.” Or maybe Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Women are like tea bags. We don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water.”

How about a favourite speech?

Keir Hardie and “the sunshine of socialism” is a popular one to say, isn’t it? Keir Hardie was an amazing man in terms of his range and the things he brought together. We sometimes forget that on the left.

What do you think will be the most significant change to our lives in the next 100 years?

We will have to be much more adaptable as a nation and as a world. There is a fantastic [Brazilian] professor, Roberto Unger, who talks about how the challenge of the left isn’t to redistribute resources but to redistribute entrepreneurship. To be able to take advantage of the way that the world is becoming strikes a chord with me.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

That we fracture into fighting the future, rather than shaping it. What we are seeing now in terms of the rise of the far right is, for me, an expression of anger and hatred rather than solidarity. It would be destructive if we allowed people to set themselves against each other and not recognise our mutual interests. We are not going to build a better country and a better world if people sit about like muppets.

What is the top priority for the future well-being of people and our planet?

I worry that we will carry on with the same people and the same mindset. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing but expecting different results. If you do things differently, then you might surprise yourself.

Stella Creasy drawn by Ellie Foreman-Peck

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The North

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.