Commons Confidential

Hoon's unexploding underpants

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Pauline Neville-Jones, a figure straight out of a Bond movie -- although think Judi Dench rather than Eva Green -- has spooked the Tory hardmen Chris Grayling and Liam Fox. The shadow home and defence spokesmen forced David Cameron to deny his national security adviser her promised cabinet-level post. The baroness, once chair of Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee, will be tucked away in the Home Office if the Cons win in May. Fighting terrorism seems to have taken a back seat to Tory infighting.

The Labour plotter Geoff "Buff" Hoon is still suffering Talibrown recriminations. One party loyalist spat that the Very Rubbish Coup fell flat when Hoon's underpants failed to explode. Another argued that they detonated but, like the Christmas Day bomber, Hoon only scorched his own privates. More sinisterly, a minister recalled Hoon moaning of mistreatment by Tony Blair, exclaiming: "After all the lies I've told for him!" What could Hoon have meant?

Andrew Mitchell is following in the tyre tracks of the Tory Lycra louts David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The banker-cum-overseas aid spokesman narrowly missed the heavily pregnant ITV hackette Alex Forrest on a Westminster pedestrian crossing. She protested loudly as Mitchell sped off into the dark without stopping. The frontbencher later rang to congratulate feisty Forrest on her impending motherhood -- but curiously offered no apology.

The Bible-quoting blogger Alastair "Now We Do God" Campbell fancies himself as a new Piers Morgan but TV isn't so keen, a producer whispered. Nor is Comical Ali's pride in the Iraq war likely to land him the newspaper column he covets. Meanwhile the onetime spinner's nemesis, Andrew Gilligan, has been busy. A snout muttered that round at Boris Johnson's London pad, Gilligan had been enlisted to help pull down a summer house in the garden.

The US shock jock Michael Savage, banned from Britain, wants the ban lifted so he can visit plants donated to Kew Gardens 40 years ago in his given name, Weiner. Kew has no record of them, and is in no hurry, I hear, to get to the root of the problem.

Tessa Jowell is recuperating after a knee op. A colleague wondered if she had worn out the joint with all those years of bending it to Blair.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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.