No, Farage, the protesters weren't anti-English, they were anti-UKIP

It's right-wing bigotry that the protesters are "virulently opposed" to, not "the English".

If Nigel Farage is to be believed, the protesters who forced him to abandon his planned press conference at a pub in Edinburgh yesterday, were Scottish nationalists "virulently opposed to the English". In an interview on the Today programme this morning, he challenged Alex Salmond to "come out and condemn this sort of behaviour", declaring that "they were all campaigners for independence, they were all people who vote SNP. They were all united by a hatred of the English, the union jack and everything the UK represents."

But while it's politically convenient for Farage to dismiss the protesters as nationalist bigots, you will search in vain for any evidence to support his claim. Those who disrupted the press conference shouted "racist", "scum" and "homophobe", words which suggest that the protest had more to do with UKIP's opposition to gay marriage and its anti-immigration policies than it did with Farage's nationality. For one thing, if SNP supporters are motivated by anti-Englishness, why aren't Labour, Lib Dem and Tory politicians mobbed whenever they set foot in Scotland? 

Rather than naïvely accepting Farage's characterisation of the protesters, (as some anti-independence Labourites have done), it seems reasonable to let them speak for themselves. 

John Martin, the president of the Edinburgh College Students' Association, said: "We organised yesterday's protest against Farage out of a belief that UKIP's policies are fundamentally rotten. Their headline five-year immigration freeze is not only completely disconnected from reality, but is a policy that neither the people of Scotland nor the rest of the United Kingdom would stomach. His regressive and repugnant ideology is not far removed from that of the BNP - just dressed in a better-fitting suit."

A spokesman for the Radical Independence Campaign said: "This was about challenging someone whose party has been spouting racist, sexist and homophobic bile and gone unchallenged for months. Everyone who opposes the politics of fear and division should unite against UKIP - whether you live in Scotland or England."

Farage's insistence, against all evidence to the contrary, that the protesters were united by a hatred of the English (a significant number were English) is amusingly at odds with the line adopted by his own party's spokesman yesterday: "Was it anti-English? I doubt it." 

In another interview, on Good Morning Scotland, Farage insisted: "The anger, the hatred, the shouting, the snarling, the swearing was all linked in to a desire for the Union Jack to be burnt." Note the peculiar phrasing: a "desire" for the Union Jack to be burnt. If the protesters loathe the English as much as Farage suggests what was stopping them setting light to the flag there and then?

One protester did invite the UKIP leader to "shove your union jack up your arse", but this stray quip hardly summed up the spirit of the demonstration (nor was it obviously anti-English). 

The protesters may have been foolish to greet Farage as they did (yesterday's events were a political gift to UKIP), but anti-English they were not. 

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage addresses the media in central London on May 3, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.