Labour conference lookahead | Monday 26 September

The who, when and where of the Labour conference.

Look out for

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, will address conference soon after midday. He will tell delegates that the party must work to restore economic credibility in the way that it did before Tony Blair was elected. To this end, he will pledge to set out strict fiscal rules for a future Labour government in the party's election manifesto. He will also promise to spend any windfall from the sale of bank shares on paying off the national debt, rather than on boosting public spending.

Balls will stress that spending cuts are here to stay. "We still know today what we recognised in 1994," he will say. "We will never have credibility unless we have the discipline and the strength to take tough decisions." In an interview with the Independent ahead of the speech, he said no-one in the shadow cabinet would make any promises at this stage to undo any government cuts.

He will, however, reiterate that rising unemployment and stalled economic growth prove that Labour was right to advocate a slower pace of deficit reduction. As the coalition continues to blame Labour's mismanagement for the current crisis, Balls will stress the role of the global crisis, warning in stark terms: "The country and the whole world is facing the threat of a lost decade of economic stagnation."

Last year, Balls was accused of being overly negative when he implied that George Osborne's economic policies would cause Britain to slip into a double-dip recession. Now, that warning looks prescient.

Signs of trouble?

Labour is in the midst of a two year policy review, so policy promises are unlikely to be on ground. Three and a half years ahead of the election, Labour has the problem that it cannot set out a full alternative plan -- but without this detail, will struggle to regain credibility. It can get around this by saying what it would do if in government now, something which Ed Miliband did at the weekend with his tuition fee proposals.

The results of yesterday's Refounding Labour vote wil be revealed. It is an extensive reform of the way internal leadership elections work.

On the fringe

Does Labour have an enterprise plan? Chuka Umunna, shadow minister for small business and enterprise, takes part in a panel discussion chaired by the New Statesman's political correspondent, Rafael Behr, from 5pm. More details.

Conference timetable

Morning - 9.30am: Conference opens

Welsh Report from Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales

Report from Glenis Willmott MEP, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party

Panel discussion of "Britain in the World", with Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for international development, Jim Murphy, shadow secretary of state for defence, and Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary

"Prosperity and Work" - speech by Ed Balls MP, shadow chancellor of the exchequer

12.45pm: Break

Afternoon - 2.15pm: Conference reconvenes

Speech by John Denham, shadow secretary for business, innovation and skills: "Working Britain Today"

Speech by Maria Eagle, shadow secretary of state for transport

Speech by Liam Byrne, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions

Scottish Report from Ann McKechin, shadow secretary of state for Scotland, and Iain Gray MSP, leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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.