It was Boris who won the biggest cheer last night

The closing ceremony again demonstrated the Mayor's unrivalled popularity.

Perhaps it wasn't surprising given the paucity of talent on display (we wanted Glastonbury, they gave us the V Festival), but it's still notable that it was Boris Johnson, rather than any of the performers, who received the biggest cheer at last night's Olympics closing ceremony. The Games began with thousands chanting "Boris! Boris!" in Hyde Park, they ended with them roaring at the mere mention of his name in Stratford. It's hard to think of any other politician who could enjoy such a reception because, put simply, there isn't one.

Some will argue that this reflects the executive weakness of the Mayor's office. He's not a leader, he's a mascot. But Ken Livingstone never enjoyed such adoration and no alternative Labour (David Lammy?) or Conservative Mayor (Seb Coe?) would. The result is that Boris is now spoken of as a potential prime minister by both the left and the right, and viewed as an increasing threat by Labour.

Over the same period, for the first time since David Cameron became Prime Minister, conservative commentators have begun to question whether he will last until the election. He will, of course, but the mere posing of the question, just two years into his premiership, is an indictment of his leadership. Unsurprisingly, then, Cameron is increasingly unsettled by the Tories' prince across the Thames. In his final comments before he departed for his Mediterranean holiday, he pointedly noted that Boris had "some huge challenges to meet across the capital in his second term". Elsewhere, he stated: "I’m delighted that my party has so many big hitters. I’ve got the opposite of tall poppy syndrome." But even if that were true (with the possible exception of Ken Clarke, one searches in vain for a "big hitter" on the frontbench), Cameron would be forced to concede that there is no bigger hitter than Boris.

The danger for the Mayor, perhaps, is that he has peaked too soon. Will his brand of bonhomie be tired by 2015? I suspect not, and the Olympics will be remembered as the moment that the Tories (to their joy) and Labour (to its terror) realised as much.

The Olympic Flag is handed from Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to IOC President Jacques Rogge. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.