David Cameron wants 2014 to be the year "Britain rises"

Answers on a postcard if you know what he's talking about.

David Cameron has delivered his New Year message, and with it a slogan we will no doubt be heartily sick of by February: Britain is on the rise. 

He writes in the Times that the "difficult decisions" he has taken since forming a government in 2010 are now beginning to pay off. "After three and a half years, it’s time for the next phase of that plan - 2014 is when we start to turn Britain into the flagship post-Great Recession success story. A country that is on the rise."

Later, he adds: "During the recession I insisted that we were all in it together. As we recover, let me be clear: we are still all in it together. The question now is how we move forward and make sure Britain and its people rise."

He then claims that Labour's policies - "more borrowing, more spending and more debt" - would be catastrophic (perhaps, following his earlier logic, people might sink? Perhaps Britain as a whole might sink?) and instead advocates a five-point plan.

1. Continuing to reduce the deficit, and "help keep mortgage bills low" - although how far he can control the latter, when the Bank of England sets interest rates, is questionable.

2. Continue cutting income tax, raise the personal allowance and freeze fuel duty. 

3. "Backing small business".

4. Capping welfare and controlling immigration.

5. A new national curriculum and a commitment to "deliver the best schools for every child".

Cameron concludes: "We’ve come a long way already. Let’s make 2014 the year when Britain really starts to rise."

The article distils the key messages we are likely to hear from the Tories until the next election: cautious optimism, budget responsibility, plus hard lines on immigration and welfare. As Mark Wallace writes at Conservative Home: "This article is the crib-sheet to [Cameron's] campaign plan – now we must see whether he sticks to it, and if it survives contact with events and the enemy."

Also noteworthy is the unsubtle dig at France in there - "If you doubt how disastrous a return to Labour-style economics would be, just look at countries that are currently following that approach. They face increasing unemployment, industrial stagnation and enterprise in free fall".

In recent days, Francois Hollande's flagship policy of a top tax rate of 75 per cent has been approved by France's highest court. This will no doubt lead to more protests from football clubs, showbusiness stars and business leaders in the coming months, although it has popular support. Hollande's personal polling is dire, so expect to see more attacks linking him and Miliband. 

David Cameron. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.