The party leaders, minus Cameron. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/AFP
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Who are the party leaders?

Where is Natalie Bennett from? How old is David Cameron? What was Nigel Farage's job? We give you the lowdown on the party leaders.

Ed Miliband

Age: 45

Birthplace: London

Education: Haverstock Comprehensive in Chalk Farm; the University of Oxford (PPE); the London School of Economics

The son of immigrant parents, Ed Miliband began his career as a researcher on the Channel 4 program A Week in Politics. He started working for the Labour Party in 1993 and worked for Gordon Brown. He was elected at MP for Doncaster North in May 2005 with over 50 per cent of the vote. He has been leader of the Labour Party since September 2010.

Nicola Sturgeon

Age: 44

Birthplace: Irvine, Ayrshire

Education: Greenwood Academy; the University of Glasgow (Bachelor of Law, Diploma in Legal Practice)

Nicola Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party in 1986, where she worked as a Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener. She originally ran in the 1992 general election, when she was the youngest candidate in Scotland, but failed to win the seat.

In 1997, she defied a Labour national landslide to win the Glasgow Govan seat for the SNP. Although she failed to win the seat in the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999, following partial devolution, she was placed first in the SNP regional list and became a MSP.

Sturgeon has served in the Shadow Cabinets of both Alex Salmond and John Swinney, and has been the Shadow Minister of Children and Education, Health and Community Care, and Justice.

She became Deputy First Minister of the SNP in 2007 and party leader in September 2014.

 

David Cameron

Age: 48

Birthplace: London

Education: Eton College; the University of Oxford (PPE)

After leaving Eton in 1984, David Cameron took up a post as a researcher for his godfather Tim Rathbone before working in Hong King as a “ship jumper”. He then entered the University of Oxford, where he was – controversially – a member of the elite Bullingdon Club.

After graduating, Cameron worked for the Conservative Research Department, going on to brief John Major for Prime Minister’s Questions. He then served as Special Adviser to the Chancellor and later the Home secretary.

After various attempts, Cameron won a seat in Witney, Oxfordshire in 2010. His leadership of the Conservative Party was announced in December 2005.

 

Nigel Farage

Age: 51

Birthplace: Downe, Kent

Education: Dulwich College

The son of a stockbroker, Nigel Farage was educated at Dulwich College in south London before entering the City as a broker on the London Metal Exchange.

Farage had been involved in the Conservative Party since school, but left in 1992 after then Prime Minister John Major’s government signed a treaty on the European Union. He was a founding member of UKIP the following year.

Farage was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 and then again in 2004, 2009 and 2014. He was elected leader of UKIP in September 2006.

Some of his comments about immigrant groups in the UK, such as Muslims and Romanians, have proved controversial.

 

Natalie Bennett

Age: 46

Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

Education: MLC School, Burwood, New South Wales; University of Sydney (Bachelor of Agricultural Science); University of New England (BA Arts); University of Leicester (MA Mass Communication)

Natalie Bennett was born in Sydney, and started work as a journalist in New South Wales. She left Australia in 1995, living for four years in Thailand before moving to Britain in 1999. She has worked for the Independent, the Times and has been editor of The Guardian Weekly.

She joined the Green Party in 2006, working as an internal communications co-ordinator. She also founded the Green Party women’s group, and was a trustee of the Fawcett Society 2010-14.

Bennett replaced Caroline Lucas as leader of the Green Party in September 2012. Now a British Citizen, she would be eligible to hold the post of Prime Minister.

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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.