White van men: the the Home Office’s aggressive message to illegal immigrants hit a sour note last year
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It is still hard to trust the Tories on race, despite its campaign to woo black and Asian voters

The party is still little closer to looking like the country it claims to represent.

As someone who grew up as an Asian boy in Thatcher’s Britain, I find the Tories’ current campaign to woo black and ethnic-minority voters hard to believe. Others of my age and background may find it almost funny, too.

My earliest memories of the Conservatives are that they were never on my side when I was subjected to racism, whether in the football stands or by the police. I won’t forget how they ignored Stephen Lawrence’s family after his murder and, two decades on, it’s difficult to shake those suspicions. I welcome anything that offers black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters better political representation but it doesn’t take long to notice that the Tory party is little closer to looking like the country it represents.

I’m proud to be an MP for a Labour Party that has always fought for better representation for those facing discrimination because of their gender, race, faith, disability or sexuality. The first black MPs in modern times were Labour, and since Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng smashed the glass ceiling we have had more councillors and MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds than the other parties combined. The 2010 election was one of Labour’s worst defeats in history but we tripled the percentage of our MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Although the Conservatives gained 97 seats in 2010, they have only 11 BAME MPs to Labour’s 16.

Labour knows it must keep improving. Our representation is getting better. Eleven per cent of candidates in target parliamentary seats across the UK are from ethnic-minority backgrounds and 54 per cent are women. In London, 70 per cent are women and 40 per cent are from ethnic minorities.

Through our community organising work, we engage with BAME groups about the issues that matter to them. As a result, we are able to identify young BAME people who are interested in improving their areas and encourage them to join our Future Candidates Programme (30 per cent of those who applied in 2013 were BAME). Without this proactive effort, increasing representation wouldn’t happen.

Many remember that David Cameron’s chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, was responsible for the “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” dog-whistle campaign in 2005. Last summer, we saw vans bearing the words “Go home” being driven through six of the UK’s most diverse boroughs. None of the Tories thought this may be a problem for BAME Britons who recall the National Front using similar language in the 1970s and 1980s. With Crosby as the Tories’ chief adviser, voters can be excused for viewing the Conservatives’ focus on ethnic-minority voters as insincere. Last month, one of the BAME Tory parliamentary candidates admitted his party is still seen as “racist”.

Many of our ethnic-minority communities arrived in the UK in difficult circumstances and with very little. They understand better than anyone the pricelessness of community and fairness as values applied to all. It’s a world-view that is fundamentally incompatible with a modern Tory party whose approach to politics is based on pitting communities against each other and an idea of fairness that is centred on the individual.

So excuse me if I struggle to believe the Conservatives when they claim that they have changed.

Sadiq Khan MP is the shadow justice secretary and also the shadow minister for London

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's power game

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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.