Ed Miliband on a campaign stop in Salford. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Why I keep holding my nose and voting Labour

Alarming as it is to see the traditional major parties all trying their hardest to look the same, it comes down to who you think is least likely to make things worse.

When I voted in 1997 it felt like a great civic duty. It felt like somebody had to do something to finally get rid of the apparently invincible Tory governments that stretched back almost as long as I’d been alive. To my righteously indignant teenaged brain the Tories winning in 1992 was a terrible wrong, one that my generation was set to help rectify, because those before us had dropped the ball.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how Blair was such a winning candidate. He didn’t stand for anything specific other than not being a Tory, but that was enough for me. When he was bringing in tuition fees just as I started university he wasn’t a Tory. When he was waving his arse at millions of anti-war demonstrators before enthusiastically planning and waging a war of aggression he still wasn’t a Tory. When he was there beside Bush, wearing that sinister hammerhead grin of his as Britain colluded in torture, he still wasn’t a Tory.

I could always look at Blair and tell myself that sure, he had the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on him for his role in the Iraq invasion, but it wasn’t like the Tories wouldn’t have done the same. That became the rationalisation for his worst excesses, that the Tories would have done it too. What Blair did bring was mitigating factors. The minimum wage, the increased public spending, reducing poverty, they took the edge off. For all that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did wrong the last five years of coalition rule have reminded us that, no, they were not Tories.

But we get to 2015 and things feel a lot different. When Rachel Reeves pops up to tell us that Labour will be “tougher than the Tories” a on benefits and when Tristram Hunt proclaims that Labour are “aggressively pro-business” it makes me wonder just who these people are and why are they even in the Labour Party to start with. Who joins the Labour Party so they can be tough on benefits claimants? Who joins the Labour Party for the sake of business interests? I could understand it if these kinds of ideas were held by people who had sneaked into the party and were sitting quietly at the back waiting their time, every party has its oddities, but to have them front and centre with an election coming up? In a country crying out for change it is alarming to see the traditional major parties all trying to look as alike as possible.

Increasingly I feel like a man without a country when it comes to British politics. The rhetoric of the Labour Party doesn’t comfort me in the slightest. I like Ed Miliband, I like that he opposed bombing Syria and I like that he stood up to the Daily Mail over their attacks on his father’s memory. That’s two things already that Tony Blair would never have done, but I still don’t get a sense that he is here to change anything.

We’ve seen the Tories at work in these last five years, dismantling and selling off anything of value within the British public sector like a well-connected crew of thieves. There’s no talk from Miliband about getting anything back. Not the trains, not the energy companies, not the Royal Mail. It feels like there is no opposing force to the Tory party, no major party intent on reversing what they have done. Instead we are presented with the option of having the Tories in power to asset strip the country, or have Labour in power to enter a holding pattern.

I feel no tribal connection to Labour and increasingly I don’t see myself wanting one. I have always loathed the self-congratulatory plundering of the Tory party but as time passes I see less that appeals to me in Labour. When I look at Labour MPs in the House of Commons I get the unerring sense that they have more in common with their Honourable Friends across the room than they have with me. Maybe this was always the case, but at least Tony Blair’s mob made an effort to hide it for the first couple of elections at least.

So why do I keep holding my nose and voting for them in general elections? Fear, I guess. A holding pattern is better than a crash. It’s all well and good to talk about breaking the dichotomy when you’re insulated from the consequences of Tory rule but when you’re hanging precariously above a safety net that could be hauled out from underneath you the perspective changes. I don’t even know that Labour would keep the safety nets, but they’re a better shot than the other lot, so they get my vote. It’s not decision I make with any particular pride.

If this was the only future for Britain, Tory asset-stripping interspersed by patches of torpor under Labour, I wouldn’t have much room for optimism. But I have faith in democracy yet. I think that the Westminster parties have done such a spectacular job of alienating Scotland in recent years that there will have to be consequences and I think we’ll see them in this election. Other parties might do well too, but it’s hard to argue with the influence that forty or so seats in the hands of a party outside of the traditional Westminster coterie will have.

So as I prepare to hold my nose and vote Labour once again I can do it for the first time in a long time with hope that something will change.

 

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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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.