Cameron's reshuffle creates even more of a white, male-dominated monoculture

This is now a cabinet even less representative of British society.

There’s only one political subject in the news today: Cameron’s cabinet and ministerial reshuffles. You might think there were political plates shifting, that the shape of British politics was changing – but of course it isn’t – it’s just drifting ever further rightwards. (Yes, apparently this is still a coalition, though it’s the most right-wing Lib Dems like returnee David Laws who have any impact – reinforcing Tory ideology.) And it’s a move even further towards a white, male-dominated wealthy mono-culture.

Chancellor George Osborne is still firmly in place, whether David Cameron likes it or not, together with his clearly failed Plan A of government cuts and austerity. There’s no sign – even though the IMF (that usual champion of cuts and social pain) is clearly signalling its opposition.

Britain desperately needs government investment – in housing, in public transport, in energy conservation and renewables – that would create jobs, help relocalise the British economy, and prepared for the essential low-carbon future. It doesn’t need more government cuts to through more into unemployment, with all of its economic and social costs. But this is a government wedded to failed 20th-century neoliberalist ideology – not open to any form of economic sense.

Despite the growing opposition to the savage, destructive, inhumane benefit cuts, Iain Duncan Smith is still in place in Work and Pensions - pushing on with changes that can only see a further explosion in the work of food banks, a fracturing of communities by housing benefit changes, and many more rightful protests about the failure to provide people with disabilities with the support they need.

And this is now a cabinet even less representative of British society than before. Look at the full list, and you’ll see that we’re now down to four women. As the Fawcett Society has pointed out, men now outnumber women five to one in the cabinet. And there’s not one single member from an ethnic minority, as Andrew Sparrow pointed out in his live blog of the day's events.

So Cameron has managed one feat that could hardly have been thought possible. He’s taken his cabinet of millionaires and made it even less representative of the British public than it was before. And his pledge to ensure a third of his ministers would be women by the end of the government’s term looks further away than every – and that’s a pretty weak pledge anyway, given Francois Hollande’s gender-balanced team, for instance.

I was elected this week as the new leader of the Green Party – its second ever leader after Caroline Lucas. You might notice that makes us the only national parliamentary party now led by a woman – and the only British political party to have only ever have been led by women. I’m sure that will change eventually – but given that of the four candidates for leader, three were female (contrast that with Labour’s contortions to see that they had at least one female candidate out of five in 2010), perhaps not soon.

But back to the new cabinet – there’s individual causes for concern too. The forcing of Justine Greening out of Transport at the behest of the airport lobby, the appointment of the firmly anti-abortion Murdoch-mate Jeremy Hunt to health (surely one of the most surprising rewards for failure in recent politics), and the pushing of Ken Clarke, who sought to make sensible cuts in the number of incarcerate Britons, out of Justice.

Overall, however, there should be one top story. We’re governed by rich white males with an agenda of economic destruction in the cause of ideology.

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party in England and Wales

You might think the reshuffle would have changed politics, but it hasn't. Photograph: Getty Images

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and a former editor of Guardian Weekly.

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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.