Why Kelvin MacKenzie is wrong to diss the north

There's so much wrong with Kelvin MacKenzie's idea for a "Southern Party" that it's hard to know where to start.

Sometimes, you start a day with the best of intentions, and then someone ruins it all. I planned to spend today knitting, maybe doing some baking, planning for Christmas.

But no. Kelvin MacKenzie's been a dickhead, and so I plan to spend the next few hundred words informing him of exactly how much of a dickhead he is. 

You see, MacKenzie wants to start a "Southern Party", to help all those poor underrepresented millionaires in Kensington, Chelsea and Kent whose interests are so thoroughly ignored by the present political parties

There are so many things wrong with this article, I almost don't know where to start. Perhaps at the beginning. According to the article:

the hard-working, clever and creative people living in London and the South East who single-handedly are giving the rest of the nation a standard of living they can’t, or won’t, create for themselves.

Apparently this group is currently insufficiently represented, a source of positive growth for the economy as a whole, and in desperate need of help. Unlike these people. Obvs. 

Except, is it really obvious? Research published by the New Economics Foundation in 2009 showed that while bankers, advertising executives and accountants damage the economy, cleaners, child minders and bin-men create between £7 and £12 in the wider economy for every £1 that is spent on their services. I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you need me to cite research showing that cleaning, child minding and waste recycling are jobs that are distributed across the country, whilst banks, advertising agencies and accountants are overwhelmingly based in the south-east.

Somehow, this notion that high pay automatically correlates to a positive contribution to the wider economy just won't die. You would think that five years after the start of the great recession, the idea that those who are paid a lot of money might actually be wrecking the economy might have taken hold even a tiny little bit. Apparently not.

So much of media and governance is based in London that those of you based in the capital may not realise quite how much power and freedom you have. A start-up will find loans easier to obtain with a London address. Contacts are easier to make. Lobbying is easier. 

And there's that whole prejudice thing you don't have to deal with if you're based in the south. In the quote above, MacKenzie states that people in the south-east are creative. His obvious implication is that people elsewhere in the UK are not. Understandably, I object to his unfounded implication.

To take an example very local to me - when internet phenomenon Kickstarter launched in the UK, the first project to meet its funding goal was Sheffield-based Pimoroni. In the early years of the video games industry, Gremlin InteractiveSumo Digital and a host of smaller agencies turned Sheffield and the Don Valley into the Silicon Valley of the UK. Sheffield-based web design agency Technophobia pioneered internet banking by linking up with the Co-op to provide the UK's first internet bank, Smile.co.uk

As to MacKenzie's assertion that the south-east works harder than the rest of the country. I don't know that I can really take this seriously from someone in the middle class who is attacking a class whose very name is a testament to their hard work and dedication. 

I would love to be able to refer to a register of lobbyist and lobbying groups to show how disproportionately London-based businesses are able to influence government. Unfortunately, no such register exists.

Outside the south-east, we haven't forgotten that it was Londoners who lost Derby its train building industry. We haven't forgotten that it was London group-think that led the Coalition in it's early days to play the destruction of industrial and green technological progress for political gain with the cancellation of the Forgemasters loan.

And then he really gets his teeth in on the scroungers. Those who claim benefits. As Sarah Morrison outlined recently in the Independent, most benefit claimants are in work. In work and not being paid a living wage. Surely it doesn't take a genius to work out that if companies are using value-destroying accountants to minimise their tax bill, and paying starvation wages which must then be topped up by the government, then surely the scrounger label more properly applies to the companies, not those working for them.

The coalition and their allies are clinging to divide and rule as a central plank of their strategy. By informing us that our real enemy is our next door neighbour whose husband left her with three kids and rent arrears she didn't know were mounting, our former colleagues who didn't quite escape redundancy, the corner shop owner who couldn't afford an accountant to make sure his tax return was completed properly, they hope to distract us from the real enemy of a system past its time and a parasitic elite. 

I'm not distracted. I am angry that we have to have this fight again. But we will. 

I am not a Londoner. And for that, I am proud.

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

London: not everything happens there, you know. Photograph: Getty Images

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.