Labour candidate: We will lose seats

The man heading the Labour list in North Wales predicts his party will lose seats in Thursday's vote

The picture across Wales varies dramatically and although there is certainly some disillusionment with Labour, this is not translating into votes for any of the other parties.

As a regional candidate I get to taste the political air across North Wales and I’m predicting a few surprise outcomes.

First of all, turnout for Labour in the past two Assembly elections was low and my assessment is that disgruntled Labour voters who intend to stay at home on May 3rd probably failed to vote in 2003.
Consequently, Labour's vote will not fall by much.

Support for the Tories has increased, but my impression is this due to a desire to hurt Labour. Here in Wales the Cameron effect is non-existent and any rise in the Tory vote should not be seen as a positive endorsement of the party.

Plaid Cymru have the problem of reaching out beyond those who speak Welsh as a first language. My guess is that without the language issue, their support might have been in the 30s instead of languishing in the
low 20s. In contrast to the SNP (for whom a native Scottish dialect has never been an election issue) Plaid Cymru’s appeal will always be limited to those who speak Welsh fluently.

Finally, I see the Liberal Democrat vote in North Wales struggling to reach 10 per cent. Because disgruntled Labour voters will stay at home instead of switching their votes, the Liberal Democrats will not benefit from the Iraq effect this time around.

Turnout in Alyn and Deeside back in 2003 was shamefully low – less than 25 per cent. This time it will be different. I predict a significant increase in Labour’s safest seat in the North and I’m also sticking my
neck out over the result. I reckon Carl Sargeant will be the only Labour AM to increase both the size and proportion of Labour’s vote.

Similarly, Wrexham is looking like a Labour gain. Independent John Marek has worked hard on the Polish vote, but at the expense of his core supporter. He sent out literature in English and Polish, yet the
number of Poles on the electoral register is said to be just 200.

Elsewhere in North Wales I see Labour losing a couple of seats, probably to the Tories.

My forecast is that Labour in Wales will not do as badly as the national polls suggest. We’ll fall to 27 (down two) whereas the Tories will gain a handful. The effect of the regional top-up system will offset some of Labour’s losses and limit the success of the Conservatives. Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats will barely move, so a coalition could yet be avoided if Rhodri has the courage to continue with minority rule.

Kenneth Skates is top of the Labour list in North Wales, 31 years old, he is PA to Mark Tami MP and a former journalist.
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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.