Nigel Farage shows a mug that was presented to him before signing a book of condolence for Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Farage tries to shed his Thatcherite skin

Ukip leader says "For half the country it benefited them, for the other half it didn't."

After Margaret Thatcher's death last year, Nigel Farage declared that he was the only politician "keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive". But as Ukip has achieved increasing success in working class Labour areas (where Thatcher is regarded as a villain), Farage has recognised the need to shift his rhetoric - and his policies. Asked on The Andrew Marr Show this morning if he was the leader of a "new Thatcherite party", he replied:

No, because that was of its time. Thatcherism was of its time, 40 years ago, to deal with a specific set of problems. For half the country it benefited them, for the other half it didn't.

He went on to confirm that Ukip had abandoned its previous policy of a flat tax of 31 per cent, which would have entailed a huge giveaway to the richest, and pledged to take anyone earning the minimum wage out of income tax.

We're going to rethink the tax thing [flat tax], I think that was badly explained, because people thought we were going to put tax up for the low-paid, no, the idea was to abolish National Insurance. What I can tell you for certain is that our biggest tax objective in the next manifesto will be no tax on the minimum wage. You've got to incentivise people to get off benefits and get back to work. That will obviously cost money.

Asked if the cost of tax cuts for the low-paid meant there would be no reductions for higher-earners, he said: "I think a top rate of tax, in this country, of around about 40 per cent is the one that will bring the most revenue into the Exchequer, I think through the 80s and 90s we saw that...Anything over 40 and you start to see people going overseas."

That of course would be a reduction from the current rate of 45 per cent, allowing Labour to attack Farage for promising a "millionaire's tax cut", but it still represents a shift left from Ukip's previous stance. Farage also wisely withdrew his previous suggestion that he would remove the ring-fence on NHS spending.

These stances will antagonise the party's libertarian wing but they are politically astute. Far from craving a laissez-faire approach, most of Ukip's supporters favour an expanded state and higher public spending. Polling by YouGov shows that 78 per cent support the nationalisation of the energy companies and 73 per cent back the renationalisation of the railways. Rather than a "code of conduct" for employers (as promised by Farage), 57 per cent simply want zero-hours contracts to be banned. Rather than a 40p top tax rate, the same number support the reintroduction of the 50p rate. 

Given Ukip's success in attracting working class supporters, it makes no sense for the party to alienate them by adopting a programme of turbo-Thatcherism. In this era of insecurity, there is a large market for a party that combines hostility towards the EU and immigration with a critical stance towards big business. As Farage and his allies know, it is this approach that has enabled the Front National to achieve such success in France.  

Wary of attacking Ukip over its stances on Europe and immigration, Labour has recently focused on campaigning against its free market policies (branding Farage "more Thatcherite than Thatcher"). But if the party's drift to the left continues, it will become much harder to do so. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.

***

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.