Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Bloomberg's European headquarters on Britain's involvement in the EU on August 6, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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When Boris attacked Blair's "astonishing" assault on the right to trial

In 2005, the Mayor argued that the right to a fair trial "must remain an inalienable principle of our law".

In his Telegraph column today, Boris Johnson casually proposes dispensing with one of the fundamental principles of our legal system: the presumption of innocence. The Mayor of London calls for "a swift and minor change so that there is a 'rebuttable presumption' that all those visiting war areas [Iraq and Syria] without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose". 

It is worth revisiting, then, a column he wrote in the same paper in 2005 denouncing Tony Blair's plan to "take away our 800-year-old freedoms". In response to the proposed detainment of terrorist suspects without trial, he argued that "it must remain an inalienable principle of our law that, if the state has enough evidence to incarcerate someone, then it must have enough evidence to put him on trial". 

We all agree with the Prime Minister that we face a new and sinister peril in al-Qa'eda. But it is worth pointing out that many British lives were lost every year in the 1980s and 1990s to Irish republican terror - far more than have been lost, since 2001, to the operatives of al-Qa'eda - and it is more than 30 years since we last tried interning IRA suspects.

Why is Mr Blair assuming these astonishing powers now? The Government says it must suspend the right to a trial, because trials would jeopardise the secret telephone intercepts of the security services. That sounds like phooey.

The Tories have offered a sensible compromise, by which a pre-trial judge would hear any sensitive evidence, and decide what needed to be screened out, without prejudicing the fairness of a full trial. Why can't Blair accept that? As my colleague Richard Shepherd said yesterday in the Commons, there is something deeply un-British about this Bill, something profoundly ignorant of the history of this country and the rights of its people.

Of course terrorist suspects should be rounded up. Of course we should crack down hard on anyone to do with al-Qa'eda. But it must remain an inalienable principle of our law that, if the state has enough evidence to incarcerate someone, then it must have enough evidence to put him on trial.

But in the face of understandable outrage over Isis, the Mayor has apparently decided that we can do without the right to a fair trial after all. His new stance is further evidence, as I have written before, that he is a Marxist of the Groucho variety: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.