The cosy relationship between the PM and NI

Half of Cameron's first dozen media contacts after the election were with News International.

As promised, the Cabinet Office has released a list of all editors, proprietors and journalists to meet David Cameron since May 2010. (It can be found here as a PDF.)

The list makes for interesting reading. Rupert Murdoch was the first press baron Cameron met after the election, followed by the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. That month, the Prime Minister also hosted Lord (Terry) Burns of Channel 4 and Deborah Turness of ITV News at his country retreat, Chequers.

The first four meetings of the next month, June, are all with News International journalists - first, Rebekah Brooks comes to Chequers, then Cameron has a "general discussion" with Sun editor Dominic Mohan. He later attends the News International summer party, and gives an interview to Times editor James Harding.

There's a brief respite with the next entry, a general discussion with Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig, before Cameron attends the Times CEO summit in London. (The text of his speech can be found here.)

He then rounds off June with a visit to the FT mid-summer party, and begins July with the Spectator summer party.

There are two key points to take away from the list. The first is that of the 12 media contacts Cameron had in the first two months of his premiership, six of them were with News International.

The second interesting piece of information is who was invited to Chequers. This being the PM's country home, it must be assumed that an invitation there means that Cameron is closer to you than if you had simply been granted a "general discussion".

The Chequers invitees are:

  • May 2010 Lord Burns, Channel 4
  • May 2010 Deborah Turness, ITV News
  • July 2010 Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail owner
  • August 2010 Rebekah Brooks, News International
  • November 2010 James Murdoch, News International

Although there are no details of the infamous "Christmas dinner" of Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and Cameron, it is worth noting that two separate "social" meetings are listed for December 2010. One is with Murdoch and Brooks; the other with Brooks alone.

Cameron's March 2011 hosting of Andy Coulson at Chequers - which, according to the Guardian, he paid for from his own pocket - is not included in the list as Coulson was not a working journalist at the time.

One final point: as BBC business journalist Joe Lynam points out, the list does not include a single BBC journalist or executive.

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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.