Harman in sense of humour shock

The verdict on the Labour deputy leadership candidates' Question Time performances - and bloggers un

As the Labour deputy leadership race gains pace, the display of aptitude by the contestants on Question Time, as on Newsnight the week before last, gripped the blogosphere.

Iain Dale thinks Harriet Harman has had her time in the spotlight during this contest and will be eating humble pie come June 27.

He said: “I do enjoy the sight of Harriet Harman dissing the very government she has been a fairly prominent member of for 10 years. She is, however, developing a long overdue sense of humour. I suspect it will disappear from whence it came after 27 June.”

Another deputy leader candidate, Peter Hain, has reversed his thinking behind a possible coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly Government, as Alun Cairns AM said here. Mr Cairns said Mr Hain was at his poorest on Question Time on Thursday night.

But it was news of a 22-year-old graduate who “blogged to shock” which drew my attention most sharply this week, featured on the Laban Tall blog. According to this BBC report, the supermarket worker was told he could be jailed for his posts by a Falkirk court.

Once again we see bloggers come under fire from the legal system. But the last time I wrote about one of our blogosphere colleagues being scrutinised for their musings, was when an Egyptian blogger had been jailed. You can read it here. It is particularly poignant after a week when Newsnight again talked up the political repression of the Egyptian state.

Ed Husain’s book, The Islamist, was discussed over at Pickled Politics this week, as I found myself agreeing with Melanie Philips – a rare occasion. I too would suggest this book to be read as widely as possible by the ruling class.

She said: “‘The Islamist’ should be sent to every politician at Westminster, put on the desk of every counter-intelligence officer and thrust under the supercilious nose of every journalist who maunders on about ‘Islamophobia’.

And this I just loved. As a student in Birmingham I often wondered where the word Brummie came from. The Prague Tory has dug this one out, saying: “I'm pretty sure most Brummies don't mind being called Brummies by outsiders and even if some do they should lighten up.

“The word Brummie derives from Brummagem which according to this Wikipedia entry vied over Birmingham during the 18th century.” Fascinating indeed.

But I leave you with notes from one of the most prolific figures in 20th century broadcast journalism, Kate Adie of the BBC. At the Multimedia Meets Radio blog, Mike Mullane has an interesting dialogue with Kate in which she airs her views on blogging.

She said: “You are blogging to a peer group - that's all right - I can understand there is a demand for that. But journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!”

Perhaps she’s right. But this was topped by a dig at her BBC management colleagues. She said their blogs were proof they have nothing better to do during their working day.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.