PMQs Sketch: May, they're behind you!

It's not Labour who are furious at May, it's those in her own party.

There is nothing like a good execution to get them going in the House of Commons but today, sadly, there was indeed nothing like it.

On the surface the plan was simply to further the destabilisation of the Government with fresh attacks on Home Secretary Theresa May over her summer-time immigration policy, which critics say involved stamping the word "enter" on the forehead of anyone who turned up.

Indeed following accusations that she had been economical with the truth at an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the tumbril, so recently used to cart off Liam Fox, had been oiled and greased for another outing. Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz had slipped easily into undertaker tones as he toured the studios looking for victims and issuing the tricoteuse with new needles.

So it should have been with some trepidation that Theresa May entered the Commons chamber for Prime Ministers Questions. But 18 months in a post which has spelled the end of many a political career must have toughened her up for she entered under full sail, white top crackling, to face her accusers. But just in case she wavered Dave had sandwiched her between William Hague and George Osborne to stop any attempt to make a run for it.

Outside in the real world Ladbrokes had cut her price on being the next to exit the cabinet from 16/1 to 7/1 and she must have known half her colleagues, furious at anybody with a foreign accent being allowed into Britain, would have already been down the bookies. With lunch beckoning there was a fair amount of drooling going on at the thought of a slice of well-cooked Home Secretary as a starter.

Dave had let it be known that he had "full confidence" in Theresa May thereby leaving her open to instant dismissal if necessary, although the departure of two cabinet ministers within a month might be judged somewhat careless on his side. He also has this problem with women voters who seem to see more of the smarm than he would like, so losing Theresa would not be advantageous here either. Final confirmation, if it were needed, that the Government was once again up to its eyeballs in it came from the loud hoots of support from those behind her, happy at the thought there may soon be a vacancy.

Then up stood Ed Miliband and it all went a bit pear shaped. Immigration has always been dodgy ground to say the least for the Labour Party and it was clear from the outset that Dave was going to remind him of this. Ed had clearly spent hours with his advisors working out what to say and how to say it but whoever plays the Dave part needs replacing.

He had obviously decided to avoid concentrating on the claims by Borders Boss Brodie Clark that Theresa May might be telling porkies about whathad gone on although this was the only game in town. Instead he tried to skewer him on numbers getting in rather than the complaints from staff that cuts meant they could not do the job. As Ed accused Dave of dodging responsibility, being shambolic and out of touch, Tory cheers grew as they realised their man was getting away with it again and lunch was only minutes away.

Labour raised their volume in defence leaving Speaker Bercow to charge both sides with "shouting their heads off ". And that is what Ed seemed to be doing as his session with the PM drew to a close. Dave is an easy target at the weekly confrontation as all Labour has to do is wind him up and let him go. But Ed gives the impression of someone who learns his lines and is not too good on going with the flow. Labour may be 5% ahead of the Tories in the polls but bearing mind the state of the economy should be expecting more. Ed's own popularity out in the country, not to mention among his own MPs, could do with a lot of improvement.

It was left to Dave to round off his session with a reminder that Labour guru and Miliband backer Lord Glasman had said Labour had "lied" about immigration. Theresa May relaxed. Outside students protested and the eurozone continued to collapse. Next week MPs are on holiday.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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.