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Commons confidential: Balls tweet auction, Lib Dem caution and Dafydd Cameron in Wales

Plus: could Gloria De Piero be a future culture secretary?

The US ambassador to London, the Democratic Party fundraiser Matthew Barzun, likes to tell of how he learned a few words of Welsh in the lead-up to the 2014 Nato summit in Newport, only to find that the locals spoke English. Dafydd Cameron took a different route on a recent foray to lecture the Welsh Tories in Cardiff. A copy of the speech he delivered was punctuated by phonetic translations. He was advised to say that the Wales minister Alun Cairns is from “Ysgol [pronounced Usgol] Pontardawe” and that he’d tell Labour’s Stephen Kinnock “da iawn” [pronounced “dye yown”, meaning “very good”] on 7 May when he comes second to the Tory candidate for Aberavon, the China-born “Edward Yi He [pronounced Yee Hay]”. Labour used to do the same with the word-mangling John Prescott after he stumbled over Slobodan Milosevic.

Disloyal of Danny Alexander to exclude Nick Clegg from Talk of the Glens, the eight-page glossy magazine given out to his Highlands constituents. There’s a recipe for Danny’s sausage and butternut squash stew, a crossword, an approving reference to Harriet Harman’s “ginger rodent” gibe, photos galore and an interview with his dad, Di, a former fireman. But no mention of Clegg. Indeed, all references to the Lib Dems are restricted to the back page. It seems the man who styles himself “Our Champion” is going it alone. Danny will have only himself to blame if he loses.

The Great British Battleaxe, Christine Hamilton, is selling cereal bars. Christine will soon appear on television fronting an ad campaign for the weight-loss range Slim-Be. The larger-than-life (though she claims to have dropped a dress size by eating what she’s flogging) Tory-turned-Ukip activist is, like her husband, Neil, the ex-MP, increasingly disillusioned with the Purple Shirts. Farage made it clear there’s room for a solitary ego in the party and his own is insatiable. At the rate the party is falling in the polls, it could yet win Political Slimmer of the Year.

To Leeds, and Morley’s magnificent, colonnaded old town hall. The Grade I-listed Victorian masterpiece boasts a bust of Herbert Asquith, a local lad who for eight years in the Edwardian era was Liberal prime minister. The current MP is Ed Balls. A copy of his notorious tweet (of his own name) was auctioned for £250. The fundraiser was split with Dewsbury, where Labour’s Paula Sherriff (younger sister of Lee Sherriff, standing in Carlisle) hopes to overturn the Tory barrister Simon Reevell’s vulnerable 1,526 majority. The talk in Dewsbury Labour ranks was of a Conservative action day to flood the former mill town’s streets with activists. They couldn’t fill a taxi.

From breakfast TV to culture secretary? That’s the word on Gloria De Piero if Labour wins the election.

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 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Israel's Next War

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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.