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What happened when Russell Brand interviewed Ed Miliband?

"You gotta answer it, mate."

Milibrand has landed.

A couple of days ago, Ed Miliband discovered that people were finding this election campaign too "boring", so decided to go round to everyone’s favourite Twitter-happy vagabond Jesus Russell Brand's house to make it more interesting.

For the past 24 hours, a bizarre online audience of political journalists on full pre-snark mode combined with the 1,091,466 YouTube subscribers to Brand’s festival of gonzo gurning, The Trews, have been on tenterhooks waiting for the moment that could make or break the election.

Brand promised it at lunchtime. But when do scarecrow Del Boy lotharios have lunch, the nation cried? At last, the interview appeared, and unsurprisingly it’s 15 minutes of questions low in content and high in syllables, with answers from the Labour leader peppered with incongruous glottal stops and dropped tees and aitches.

It takes just 40 seconds for Brand, sitting uncomfortably close to Miliband on his kitchen sofa with a candle burning ominously in the background, to deploy the phrase “unelected powerful elites”, and we’re off.

Thankfully, Miliband’s linguistic Blairite turns – “it’s sorta one rule for the richest”; “it’s just, like, wrong”; “Northern Rock an’ all tha’”; “Yeah we gotta deal with that”; “it ain’t gonna be like that” – don’t mean he panders to his interviewer’s conspiracy-fuelled ramblings.

Unafraid of defending the role of the establishment in making change, he even braves wearing a tie in Brand’s quarters. A dark, glossy, skinny affair. Appropriate, really.

Plus Miliband is unafraid to make the shocking admission: “I’m not sure I’d look so good with a pint on my head.”

He insists he is not “looking for euphoria” and simple solutions, making the case for progress coming from both people and politics. “It’s not about edgy,” is an immortal line. You coulda fooled me, Ed.

At one point, he shoots Brand a beautiful glance of soft disdain usually reserved for extraordinary circumstances, like being seated next to Myleene Klass. “I hope it doesn’t sound adolescent...” begins Brand. “I’m sure it won’t,” blinks Ed.

But fear not, Miliband does agree with Brand on the generally-held evils of this world, like Amazon and the Murdoch press, calling the latter “less powerful than they used to be”. Perhaps the only telling moment of the interview. Apart from when Miliband does an accomplished ‘am I right?’ full body shrug. One for the end of his next conference speech, I reckon:
 

Eyyy, buddy.

An unrevealing interview, all in all. And one that didn’t quite end in a Labour endorsement from the rabid non-voter, as was rumoured. But at least we got to hear Miliband’s street voice. And see inside yet another kitchen.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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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.

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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.