Vote for Change? Cameron is the anti-change candidate

Conservatives scupper a referendum on electoral reform.

My colleagues James Macintyre and Jon Bernstein have already blogged on the new report from the Electoral Reform Society, highlighting how the "election is already over in most of the country", given the preponderance of so-called safe seats in our antiquated, disproportional and majoritarian first-past-the-post voting system.

But I thought I'd highlight how the Tories, the party campaigning on a slogan of "Time for a Change", succeeded last night in blocking any meaningful and democratic change to our broken electoral and political system in the dying days of this discredited parliament.

From the Guardian:

In one of the first casualties of the so-called wash-up, the government was forced to abandon its proposal to introduce a referendum on the Alternative Vote system for electing MPs in October.

The Tories rejected a Labour compromise that would have introduced a sunset clause so the referendum would have to be triggered by an incoming government for the referendum to be activated.

The Tories, so keen to hold a referendum on European treaties, won't allow the British public the opportunity to decide how to choose our elected representatives. So much for "devolving" power and "trusting" the citizens of this great nation.

Here is Willie Sullivan, head of the pro-plebiscite Vote for a Change campaign:

In Wash Up and armed with a veto not granted them by any voter, the Conservatives have killed reform of the voting system and reform of the House of Lords. Cameron's message is clear. And it isn't change.

It is ridiculous the government has backed down. But it's a scandal that Conservatives have been so willing to sacrifice constitutional reform to further their own prejudices. This scorched-earth policy reveals a party that is simply too scared to leave the verdict on first-past-the-post to the British people.

Oppose political reform. Defend the status quo. Deny voters a vote. This is the modern Conservative Party, under the "modernising" David Cameron. And, to borrow a phrase from across the pond, this is not change we can believe in.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.