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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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.