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Mehdi Hasan hears the sound of a consensus cracking... now everyone loves Ed

Breaking news! Right-wing pundits now admit that they underestimated Ed Miliband.

What's that I hear? The sound of a consensus cracking?

Since 4.50pm on Satuday 25 September 2010, commentators on the right and on the so-called "centre" of the political spectrum have queued up to dismiss Ed Miliband as a lightweight, a cipher, a left-wing loon, "Red Ed", who would consign Labour to electoral oblivion in 2015 and beyond. They collectively mourned his brother David's narrow defeat.

"By choosing Ed Miliband, Labour has handed David Cameron the next election," read the headline to Matthew D'Ancona's column in the Sunday Telegraph the next day.

"On Saturday, David Cameron won the next general election," declared D'Ancona in his opening line, adding: "Could it really have chosen the wrong Miliband? Yes, it could."

"Will Labour be dead with Red Ed?" read the headline to Martin Ivens's column in the Sunday Times, also on 26 September.

"In No 10 last week some were looking forward to an Ed victory for the least flattering of reasons," wrote Ivens. "'There will be rejoicing in Tory towns all over the country if Ed wins,' a top Conservative strategist told me."

"The party voted for David Miliband but got the Panda instead," read the headline to John Rentoul's column in the Independent on Sunday.

"Ed Miliband, who would have struggled against David Cameron in the House of Commons in any event, is going to be roasted every week," argued Rentoul, an ardent Blairite, adding: "I fear that he fights with both hands tied behind his back."

Now, however, more than a year and a half later, following a shambolic budget from George Osborne and impressive gains for Labour in the local elections, those same commentators (and others) have changed their tune and are queuing up to warn against the new and looming threat posed by the Labour leader.

Here's D'Ancona in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph:

It is time to start thinking seriously about Prime Minister Miliband – to roll those words around your mouth. Whatever response the 42-year-old Labour leader provokes within you – and he has always inspired a broad range of reaction – only a fool would ignore his party’s steady progress in the local elections and commanding lead in the opinion polls (15 points ahead of the Tories in the last two YouGov surveys). The cement of popular opinion has not yet set in Miliband’s favour. But let us be objective: after two months of Coalition “omnishambles”, one has to consider that it might yet do so.

To be fair to D'Ancona, the former Spectator editor also added:

When the younger Miliband defeated his brother for the Labour leadership in September 2010 by a tiny twist of the DNA helix, many – including the present writer – thought he lacked the bearing of a future PM. But it must be conceded that he is learning, and fast.

Here's Martin Ivens in yesterday's Sunday Times:

[O]ne May morning in 2015 we could wake up with Ed Miliband as prime minister — even if there are no cheering crowds to greet the dawn with him as they did Tony Blair. Apathy, despair over a miserable economic outlook and a low turnout could return Labour to office...

The headline of the column?

How Miliband could make it to No 10

Meanwhile, in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul, through gritted teeth, acknowledged how

Cameron has allowed Ed Miliband to re-forge the coalition of the Blairites and Brownites. Peter Mandelson co-authored an article on the economy with Ed Balls, and Andrew Adonis returned to the fold to review Labour's industrial policy.

The political consensus has been well and truly cracked. The pack is on the move. Finally. It's taken a while but they seem to have got there in the end.

"Having spent the past six months studying him for our book, I have one piece of advice for Ed Miliband's conservative critics: don't misunderestimate him," I wrote in a column in the Guardian back in June 2011.

Those were the days when I got knocked by the right for daring to write such pieces. So, Matthew, Martin, John - great to have you onboard!

 

 

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.

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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.