Jon Stewart mocks the Jubilee pomp

Would a British comedian have been allowed to do this?

Regular readers will know that my love of Jon Stewart knows no bounds, but it just increased a little more this morning with his take on the Jubilee pageant, and particularly CNN's Piers Morgan working himself into a lather of deference about it. (Never has a man been more impressed with the sight of a boat turning round.)

But what struck me immediately after watching the clip that is currently doing the rounds on twitter is how this sort of gentle fun-poking has been conspiciously absent from our television screens over the last few days. A strange feeling washed over me when Stewart joked about the Queen spending 60 years "on the throne": you can't say that! I swear I heard the delicate tinkle of a taboo being broken, and I didn't think we had any of those left. Had a British comedian tried the same gag over the weekend, on one of the many interminable live broadcasts over the Bank Holiday, I'm sure that huge sections of the press would have descended on them like vultures. Perhaps that's why none of them were booked to chat on the sofa with Eamonn Holmes and Sophie Raworth and the rest.  

Most of the British comedians who could sell out an arena were in attendance at the Queen's Jubilee concert last night, and there was a real sense that anything edgy would have gone down with a lead balloon. Perhaps that's a measure of changing public taste: Britain overwhelming supports the monarchy, and we love Her Majesty in particular (what a change from the times when you couldn't move for tasteless Princess Diana jokes). 

Still, there clearly was an appetite for some relief from Forelockapalooza. Frankie Boyle's typically scabrous musings on Twitter had the shit retweeted out of them, while other comics live-tweeting the pageant and concert -- mostly in a gently non-deferential way -- got a lot of attention, too. 

Personally, I don't bedruge royalists a bit of pomp and circumstance. But I do find it odd that in an age where we regularly talk about the idea of nothing being off-limits to comedy, not a whisper of cheek made it on to our TV screens this weekend. 

Jon Stewart mocks the Jubilee pageant. And here he is, mocking American political rallies, too. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.