CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Nick Clegg to win the General Election? Has someone put something in the water supply? (Daily Telegraph)

Mayor of London Boris Johnson argues that the current madness for all things Liberal Democrat is media driven and cannot last. Nick Clegg is the beneficiary of cunning Labour spin, emphasising the third party to take the shine off the Tories.

2. And for the Lib Dems' next trick? Electrify the foreign debate (Guardian)

Nick Clegg will squander his gains if he shies from a row on Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan, says Jackie Ashley, looking ahead to this week's leaders' debate on foreign affairs. He should go on the offensive to open up a serious and nuanced debate.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

3. The Conservatives' dilemma is even worse than Labour's (Independent)

David Cameron is reluctant to attack the Lib Dems along traditional, right-wing lines for being "soft" on crime and immigration, as he could alienate the socially liberal voters he has courted. But, says Donald Macintyre, the polls may leave him little option.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

4. Nick Clegg's rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics (Guardian)

Taking a different look at the surge in Lib Dem support, former Sun editor David Yelland says that if the party actually won the election -- or held the balance of power -- it would be the first time in decades that Murdoch was locked out of British politics.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

5. Immigration needs a New York state of mind (Times)

All three main political parties are illiberal on immigration. Bill Emmott argues that bureaucratic controls will only deny Britain the benefits it has reaped from foreign workers over the years.

6. Wall Street beware: the lawyers are coming (Financial Times)

Frank Partnoy discusses the fraud suit against Goldman Sachs, saying that this will open the litigation floodgates for more suits based on subprime mortgage fraud. It also shows how litigation can fill gaps regulation will miss.

7. Wall Street 2 (Times)

The Goldman Sachs case is a devastating blow for the entire financial system, says the leading article. We are entering the next chapter of the financial crisis, in which the banking sector will have to explain itself.

8. Cameron, beware. Cake baking and sports clubs can't fix inequality (Guardian)

Madeleine Bunting looks at an east London estate which offers a potent picture of the Big Society. But there is a big gap in Cameron's big idea -- it needs a decentralised economic power to work.

9. America and Europe meet midway (Financial Times)

Republicans accuse Barack Obama of trying to turn the US into Europe. But, Clive Crook points out, there are many different Europes. What if America should converge on the wrong one?

Read the CommentPlus summary.

10. Is there any way that some 'outsiders' might get a look-in? (Independent)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown bemoans the Lib Dems' lack of black or Asian candidates in winnable seats. If politicians want more voters to come out, they need to widen the debates and engage with issues they are ignoring.


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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.