The Shard, Mordoresque. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Clegg learns the Shard way

Rees-Mogg's history, taxation mystery - and an early warning from South Thanet.

The donors’ and tax avoiders’ ball held by the Tories at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London may raise more cash, but no constituency blowout is likely to attract a bigger crush than the party thrown for Virendra Sharma. The fundraiser to re-elect the Indian-born former bus driver as Labour MP for Ealing Southall was attended by 1,200 people. The guest of honour was Tom Watson, who, back when class politics was fashionable (that’s 2007), sent limos and activists dressed as waiters with silver trays to hound David Cameron in the by-election won by Sharma. Watson’s a heavyweight in more ways than one in the eyes of local Sikhs. Last year, he exposed evidence suggesting that the Thatcher government’s hands weren’t entirely clean of the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Tessa Jowell also spoke. I’m told that Sadiq Khan wasn’t formally invited but turned up. Surprisingly, David Lammy didn’t gatecrash the throng. Those present will have votes to pick Labour’s candidate for mayor of London.

No votes have been cast yet but an informant says the clerk’s office is preparing for a possible Ukip triumph in South Thanet. Should Nigel Farage be elected, he’ll be buddied up with a senior official to teach him the ropes. Word has now reached nervous Commons staff.

A Tory grandee grumbled after MPs were given 15-minute “Tesco time slots” in the robing room of the House of Lords to admire surviving copies of Magna Carta. The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, ribbed Jacob Rees-Mogg at the opening ceremony by suggesting that the young fogey was at Runnymede when King John and the barons agreed on peace. Rees-Mogg took it with good grace. This human relic from a bygone political era sounds as though he’d have been in long trousers 800 years ago, having fought William the Conqueror in 1066 and greeted Julius Caesar when he came ashore in 55 and 54BC.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were wrong to think they’d gone up in the world when they held a Lib Dem press conference on the 52nd floor of the Shard. The party’s failure to check if people could broadcast live from such a height proved problematic. The correspondents who’d trudged over from Westminster, including the BBC’s Norman Smith, were forced to descend to street level to deliver the Yellow Peril’s news. What goes up must come down, as Lib Dem polling since 2010 makes clear.

“She won’t shed any tears if he loses.” Of whom was a prominent figure in the Tory firmament speaking? Sam Cam. Millions of Britons would share her reaction, should Call Me Dave be granted more time to reminisce about his days in the Bullingdon Club.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

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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.

***

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.