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Commons Confidential: Tough talk at Tesco

Plus: the latest jibe doing the Labour rounds.

You may recall the Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott parting ways with her distressed child to traipse through the division lobby on Michael Cockerell’s documentary Inside the Commons. She earns sympathy over the episode at meetings in marginal Cardiff Central. Curious, then, to learn that, under a deal between the parties, MPs with kids on the parliamentary estate may be nodded through – permitted to vote without appearing in person before the tellers. Labour whips mutter darkly that Willott walked for the cameras. That’s either a heinous slur or fancy footwork on her part.

Unison’s organiser Melanie Onn is fighting hard to hold Great Grimsby for Labour against Ukip’s Victoria Ayling – not the brightest of the Purple Shirts. Brainbox Ayling triggered guffaws by asking: “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” Not that the ossified Grimsby Labour Party has been renewed under Austin Mitchell MP. A visitor was excited to discover a stairlift at the local HQ, the first he’d seen in a party building. Enthusiasm waned when it was suggested that their membership was so advanced it was for the youth officer.

Laura Sandys is counting the days. The retiring Tory pro-European in Nigel Farage’s targeted Thanet South seat was struck by the similarities between parliament and prison during a recent meeting with ex-cons in Margate. MPs and inmates both split into gangs. Whips play the role of warders, enforcing discipline. Sandys refers to her forthcoming “parole” when the Commons is dissolved on 30 March.

Pity the marketing man Jonathan Lord, compared unfavourably to a 1970s Teddy boy band. The Woking Tory MP was volunteered to replace the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, at some Surrey hustings. Howard Kaye, Hunt’s train-driver Labour rival, described it as like buying a ticket for Royal Blood and seeing Showaddywaddy instead. Still, the show must go on.

As the Chipping Norton chumocracy rallies around Jeremy Clarkson, oop north the Brigg and Goole Tory blabbermouth Andrew Percy is on his own. He harangued Gillian Boatman, Labour Mayor of Goole Town Council, who works on the tills at Tesco, claiming she hadn’t invited him to a war memorial ceremony. Company rules prevented Boatman from answering back. An FOI request backfired when Percy found his name on the list. The council published a helpful letter from the forgetful MP explaining, politely, why he was unable to attend.

The latest jibe doing the Labour rounds is that Ed “Two Kitchens” Miliband is so unpopular he isn’t including his picture on leaflets in Doncaster North.

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 19 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, British politics is broken

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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.