The Blair book

A few titbits from “A Journey” that you may not have read.

Since the publication of extracts from Tony Blair's A Journey on the book's website last night, a number have been reproduced in the media, mainly as "world exclusives".

We have confirmation of the now 15-year-old story that Blair and Gordon Brown largely did not get on in government, and some more substantial sections on Iraq -- see Mehdi Hasan's forensic overnight blog -- and Northern Ireland. They are all over the place. So I thought I'd reproduce a few bits -- in no order -- that you may not yet have seen from the wider book.

  • David Miliband went to see TB in May 2007 to ask whether he should run against GB for the Labour leadership and post of prime minister. DM was uncertain, more so than Blair, that he could win. "I think you might win, not obviously but very possibly," TB told DM. He writes: "Played correctly, it would put full square the choice of New Labour or not." Is that the choice between the Miliband brothers today?
  • Blair accuses Brown of having "tied up" the support of "Murdoch and Dacre" in 2007.
  • Blair exonerates Ed Miliband and Ed Miliband alone among the GB circle when it comes to plotting against TB.
  • He accuses Ed Balls of being the Brownite plotter-in-chief.
  • Blair thought John Prescott's punch in 2001 against a countryside protester was "extraordinarily funny. The egg was funny. The mullet was funny. The left hook was funny. The expression on both their faces was funny."
  • Blair calls Alastair Campbell a "genius".
  • He says he talked to Campbell about what to say on Diana's death, but stops short of attributing the phrase "people's Princess" to him.
  • He heaps praise on Douglas Alexander and laments that Brown sucked him into his circle of insiders.
  • Blair admits he "deeply regretted" Peter Mandelson's second resignation, but denies that Campbell pushed him into it, saying "it was my decision".
  • He says the 11 September 2001 atrocities were carried out by "fanatics" who were not representative of Islam, and says that, had he known that ten years later the UK would still be in a war in Afghanistan, he would have been "profoundly alarmed".
  • Blair grabbed his friend Charlie Falconer by the lapels over allowing media editors to queue with "ordinary members of the public" on the Tube for the Dome. "'What? What? What the hell are the media doing there? You didn't, no, please, please, dear God, please tell me you didn't have the media coming here by Tube from Stratford, just like ordinary members of the public.' 'Well, we thought it would be more democratic that way.' 'Democratic? What fool thought that? They're the media, for Christ's sake. They write about the people. They don't want to be treated like them.' 'Well what did you want us to do,' Charlie said, feeling he should be fighting his corner a little, 'get them all a stretch limo?' 'Yes, Charlie,' I thundered, 'with a boy or girl of their choice and as much champagne as they can drink; or at least have got them riding in the Tube with us.' I am ashamed to say I then shouted and bawled at him for a bit longer, while the more sensible of our party tried to find out what to do."
James Macintyre is political correspondent for 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.

***

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.