The Times's bizarre attack on Ed Miliband

Miliband criticised for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

Another day, another anti-Ed Miliband story in the Times. The paper, which was a firm supporter of David Miliband, has been running a series all week on divisions within the Labour Party. But today's splash (£) is more bizarre than most. The paper effectively criticises Miliband for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

It reports:

The Labour leader was allowed to nominate ten people for a new list of working peers published yesterday. But he decided against handing seats in the House of Lords to Nigel Doughty and Sir Ronald Cohen -- who have given more than £6 million to the party since 2005 -- as well as Jon Mendelsohn, Labour's fundraising chief.

All three had been on a list drawn up by Gordon Brown, but The Times can reveal they were later told they would not be nominated. Sir Gulam Noon was the only significant donor on the new list, to show "Generation Ed was drawing a line under the past".

After reading that, one feels moved to state the obvious: party donors do not have, and should not have, any automatic right to sit in the legislature. As Sunder Katwala points out, given the damage that the "cash-for-honours" inquiry did to Labour, it's rather surprising to see Miliband under fire for not rewarding vested interests. Indeed, had he, like David Cameron, packed the upper house with party donors, one suspects he would soon face accusations of "Labour sleaze".

New Conservative peers included prominent party donor Sir Michael Bishop, the former boss of the BMI airline and Stanley Fink, the Tory treasurer who has given millions to the party. Cameron also chose to ennoble Robert Edmiston, the multi-millionaire car salesman, whose appointment was blocked in 2005 amid concerns over his tax affairs. He was later questioned by the police during the cash-for-honours affair and led the secretive Midlands Industrial Council. As Martin Bell rightly argued: "This can only add to the public's perception that high honours can be bought. We are back to the situation we were in with cash-for-honours."

The Times would do well to turn its attention to this. Does it really want a political system even more in hock to vested interests?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.