After Santorum

The unlikely ex-contender leaves a permanent mark on the GOP.

And then there was... one, and a couple others. As Rick Santorum yesterday ended his White House bid, the Republican party groaned, and sighed, in about equal measure. After a dirty, drawn out and, at times, beyond-petty primary season that began in Iowa on 3 January, Mitt Romney has now effectively sealed the nomination to take on Obama for the Presidency. With seven months until the November election we're forced to ask: are the Republicans any more united now they've "found" their man?

Santorum, out but not down

Little known before his February surge following Gingrich's falter, Rick Santorum has built a national presence beyond sharing the name of an egregious sex act. His bow-out spares Romney the embarrassment of losing any further states this late in the season, and also frees up the presumptive nominee a little cash and breathing space for the next two months while the final delegate votes trickle in.

But as wildly improbable as President Santorum ever was, the former Senator of Pennsylvania has left a number of marks on the political landscape. Not least of these has been the re-shaping of his opponent; as Jonathan Bernstein puts it, the candidate acted "as a mechanism for forcing Romney to hew to Republican orthodoxy". In his campaign suspension speech (below), Santorum notes he won more US counties than all the other Republican contenders combined. His appeal has demonstrated just how fractured - and in some quarters, extreme - conservative America is. To a significant proportion of the electorate - too large for either Romney or Obama to ignore - strong rhetoric on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, union of church and state) and immigration is a draw. Santorum will most likely run for statewide or national office again (see 2016?) so long as Tea Partiers and evangelicals share with him these beliefs. Before then, we should expect to hear from Santorum across commentary outlets (he's a former Fox News contributor) and as a fundraiser/advocate of conservative House and Senate candidates. This isn't the last of Rick.

The Grand Old Party in a fix

Speaking of the US media, various writers have been plotting Mitt Romney's political trajectory against that of Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for California who swung to the right, dropped $150m of her own cash and burned out of the race. Eschewing his own opinions in courting the conservative Conservatives could very likely cost Romney the vote of mainstream America. Young, college educated women (a demographic that votes) are unimpressed, as Ruth Marcus writes; as are Hispanic Americans and, broadly, the middle class. Even on his own terms, though, Romney is not making gains: attacks on Obama's jobs record will neither stick voters with nor swing them round to Mitt. With his likeability stats in the doldrums, Romney will have to reinvent himself - again - between now and November.

Surrounded by his family, Rick Santorum suspends his White House bid. Photo: Getty Images

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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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.