Would the Lib Dems consider a pact with Labour? Of course

After what the Tories have thrown at us, the odd insulting speech will not block dealings with Labou

"Lickspittle". It’s a great word to use as an insult, rolling deliciously off the tongue in all its onomatopoeic glory. The sort of thing New Statesman readers write about me in the comments section on a weekly basis. And I’m sure it reflects how many Labour supporters genuinely feel about the Lib Dems, collaborators with the evil Tories.

Only it wasn’t a Labour member who threw that particular bon mot in our direction from the green benches. It was a Tory. With friends like that, eh?

So when I get asked, should the electoral arithmetic in 2015 end up suggesting a Lib Dem coalition with Labour, would we consider it, it’s a bit of an eyes to heaven, and deep sighs all round moment

Of course we would.

Does anyone really think after everything the Tories have thrown at us – including just the other week the Prime Minister telling his PPCs that he has effectively dealt with us  - that the odd insulting speech or overture to our support would block us dealing with Labour? And for all the "Yellow Tories" insults, we’re not Conservatives. Nor are we Labour. We’re Liberals.

This is not to say that there wouldn’t be some hurdles to overcome. We’d have to be convinced that we would genuinely get more Liberal policies in place, like taking 2 million workers out of tax altogether (let’s not forget, Labour MPs voted against that – what were they thinking?). We’d probably take a view on how progressive Labour had been over supposedly shared ambitions – Lords reform being an obvious example.

And this time, ahead of any negotiations, we’d have to rethink our strategy in government.

Having maintained from the word go that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy in government was the road to disaster (however short term a tactic it may have been) I believe any negotiations with potential partners in government must include some safeguards about what areas of policy we would own – perhaps giving us responsibility for single departments rather than shared responsibility across all. (Tim Montgomerie was suggesting the opposite yesterday, indicating he felt an end to the current differentiation strategy is a good idea. Maybe for the Conservatives. Not for us, thanks).

And of course, there is the danger that, having gone into coalition with the Tories, jumping into bed with Labour will lead to the accusation that "they’ll sleep with anyone". Which will only be avoided by setting up some pretty clear criteria for who’ll we’ll talk to up front, before a vote is cast. And honestly, if that’s the worst of it, I think we’d cope.

I know Labour doesn’t want to talk to us. Of course you don’t and you’re probably already trolling "dream on" remarks in the comments section. You want to win a majority off your own back. I don’t blame you. For what its worth, I want the same for us.

But if you the good people of Britain decide that a Lib-Lab pact is the way forward in 2015, I’m not going to turn my face away in a sulk. And neither, frankly, is Ed Miliband.

We’ll see you in 70 Whitehall.
 

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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.