Will Cameron get his man?

The PM wants "supercop" Bill Bratton to lead the Met but Theresa May is "adamantly" opposed.

Bill Bratton, the man predictably dubbed "supercop" by the media, uses an interview in today's Guardian to stake his claim to the top job in British policing - commissioner of the Metropolitan police. Bratton, who served as the chief of police in Los Angeles and New York, is prepared to take British citizenship in order to win the post. But he tells the paper that Theresa May has been "adamant" in banning foreign nationals from applying.

Significantly, however, Bratton is known to be David Cameron's choice to run Scotland Yard, turning this into a trial of strength for the Prime Minister. The Spectator's James Forsyth, who is close to Cameron, writes that whether or not he forces May to back down, is an early test of whether he is prepared to move from being "a chairman of the board-style figure to being a chief executive".

Unsurprisingly, Cameron's decision to name Bratton as an adviser on gangs and crime has antagonised the police, who are wary of any further challenge to their authority and view Bratton as a dangerous maverick. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who is himself in the running for the Met post, commented at the weekend: "I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them. It seems to me, if you've got 400 gangs, then you're not being very effective." He added that talk of importing foreign police chiefs was "simply stupid".

But Bratton makes an impressive pitch. With an eye to liberal opinion, he describes himself as a "progressive" who hired "more people from ethnic minorities, women, gay people and transvestite people" in order to make the police forces he ran more representative of the communities they serve. He derides his critics as "parachoial" and says he has always been an "outsider". The interview also makes it clear why Cameron is so attracted to Bratton. He tells the paper: "I've been an outsider in every department I've worked in. Bureaucrats change processes, leaders change culture. I think of myself as a transformational leader who changes cultures." This is the language of Cameron's "enemies of enterprise" speech, in which he launched a fierce attack on government bureaucracies. Indeed, it was Cameron who once described the police as "the last great unreformed public service". Whether or not he prevails on the Bratton question is an important test of his reforming instincts.

In the meantime, it will be worth watching to see what Ed Miliband has to say about all of this when he speaks at his alma mater, Haverstock School, today at 10:30am.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.