Nicky Morgan, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Education, is one of four women now allowed to attend Cabinet.
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Was this reshuffle really a "purge of the middle aged men"?

There are still more than three times as many men as women in David Cameron's government.

David Cameron's new Cabinet may have purged a number of middle-aged men, as George Eaton reported yesterday, but his new ministerial line-up is still dominated by men.

Eight ministers who had the right to attend Cabinet have either resigned or retired – Andrew Lansley, George Young, Owen Paterson, Ken Clarke, David Jones, Lord Hill, Dominic Grieve and David Willetts. Seven other MPs have now been given the right to attend Cabinet, of whom three are women.

Given that Nicky Morgan had the right to attend Cabinet before today – although she did not hold a full Cabinet post – Cameron has actually added given more new men the right to attend Cabinet than women.

Before today, just five women were allowed to attend Cabinet, out of 34 ministers.

Now, after Cameron gave that right to Liz Truss, Esther McVey and Baroness Stowell, eight women can do so – but that pales in comparison to the 25 men who can.

Perhaps more importantly, most of the top jobs in Cabinet are still being filled by men. Before today the five women who could attend Cabinet were:

Theresa May – Home Secretary
Justine Greening – International Development
Theresa Villiers – Northern Ireland
Baroness Warsi – Faith and Communities 
Nicky Morgan – Financial Secretary to the Treasury (neither Warsi or Morgan were full 
Cabinet ministers but had the right to attend)

Four of those women have kept their jobs, and Nicky Morgan has now been made Education Secretary, replacing Michael Gove. She is the only women to have been put into a particuarly high-profile position.

Liz Truss has been made Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. While the department may matter more to the Tories than most, it is hardly one of the top jobs Cameron had to offer.

Of the other two women, Esther McVey has been given the right to attend Cabinet but has stayed in her role as Minister for Employment, and Baroness Stowell has been made Leader of the House of Lords – a position of relatively low impact. 

Cameron may have doubled the number of women who can attend Cabinet, but he has put many of them in peripheral roles.

 

Update: The House of Lords, one of the four positions given to a woman, has been downgraded from a full Cabinet post, as it was when Lord Hill filled the position, to a sub-Secretary of State who just "also attends Cabinet".

Correction: These charts have been corrected to show that Nicky Morgan had the right to attend Cabinet before today's promotion. 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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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.