Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty Images
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Who's backing Jeremy Corbyn? The young

For Labour's young members, Jeremy Corbyn feels like the fresh start the party needs, says Rhiannion Lucy Cosslett. 

Perhaps it’s a form of the Streisand effect, but the more we hear about Jeremy Corbyn – and let’s be honest, most of it has been disparaging - the more people seem to like him. The commentators and politicians highlight his “outdated” socialist values, his flat cap, his supposed unelectability, and instead of turning away, many people (myself included) look at him and think: “yeah.” A YouGov poll for the Times has put Corbyn on course to win the leadership election, with a 17 point lead ahead of the other candidates.

The snobbery around Corbyn has been something to behold. And yet, the more the snobs and the political cardboard cut-outs, the Blairites and the Tories and the brown-nosers slag off and berate Corbynites (and in ways they would decry as "patronising" if they were directed towards shy Tory voters), the more Corbyn steadily gains support. In contrast to the other candidates, who have never taken him seriously and now appear to be panicking, Corbyn comes across as dignified, principled, unconcerned with personal advancement, and passionate about his politics.

Hearing Tristram Hunt on the Today programme yesterday, plumming off on one about how Corbyn supporters want to return to a “comfort zone of Labour politics” and how if Corbyn wins Labour will become little more than a “pressure group” because being an “anti-austerity populist party isn’t going to get us into government” didn’t make me “see sense” as Hunt probably intended. It just made me think, “screw you all, you don’t deserve to be in government.” From what other young new Labour recruits have been telling me, I'm not alone in thinking this.

It’s been reported that a significant portion of the support Corbyn is receiving is coming from new, young Labour members. People like me, who are too young to remember the unelectable eighties, or indeed what “a comfort zone of Labour politics” feels like. This certainly seemed to be the case at the Islington North meeting I attended last week, where people of all ages, but notably young people, stood up in support of Corbyn. And, despite what his opponents might say, it’s clear he has a support base outside of Islington.

Rebecca Chambers is 19 and from Southampton. She joined the Labour party this week to vote for Corbyn. "He is much more relatable than the 'suits' that you would ordinarily see in the forefront of a leadership vote like this," she tells me, "which I think is more likely to win over voters (perhaps in a similar way to the 'Everyman' persona of Nigel Farage)." Joe Rivers, from Surrey, is nearly a decade older but feels similarly uninspired by the candidates: "I'm not sure Jeremy Corbyn would make a good PM and I'm not naive enough to think he's going to lead Britain into some kind of socialist utopia," he says, a standard disclaimer that is understandable in the face of the sneering Corbyn supporters are facing. Rivers has "zero trust" in MPs having voted Lib Dem in 2005 and 2010 and seen their U-turn on tuition fees. "It bothers me a lot that nobody in Westminster seems to have an ideology or stand for anything in particular," he says. "In a political climate where everyone is so scared of losing votes that everything they say is endlessly caveated, no-one says anything at all. Jeremy Corbyn stands for something and, faced with the cruellest government since Thatcher, that counts for a lot.”

And that is the crux of what Corbyn supporters in their teens and twenties are telling me again and again: that the current crop of candidates are so uninspiring that you can forget about winning a general election - they’d rather just have someone who represents their views about inequality, for once. Better a passionate and interesting opposition that has moral conviction than a bunch of identikit shysters who will jettison their values as soon as electoral victory looks likely, is how the way of thinking goes. Those of us who are inspired by Corbyn can expect to be called young and idealistic, or be told we need to "do our research", but there it is. It’s obvious that, for some young people at least, Corbyn is scratching a persistent anti-Blairite, anti-establishment itch.

Some of Corbyn’s ideals, such as re-nationalisation of the railways and the need to protect a publicly funded NHS undoubtedly have national appeal. Others, like the abolition of tuition fees and his anti-austerity stance, are policies with the potential to appeal to young people across the country (particularly those in danger of losing their housing benefit). Hunt is not wrong to make comparisons with Syriza and Podemos; some of those I spoke to in their teens and twenties cited the left wing movements on mainland Europe as inspirational. There’s an untapped stream of young people in Britain who feel their politics are not being represented. You see them on the austerity marches, on social media, in the words of Charlotte Church and Owen Jones and Mhairi Black. But the surge in support for Corbyn isn’t just about young people re-engaging with left-wing politics, it’s also to do with the quality Zoe Williams identified earlier this week as being central to Corbyn’s campaign; it’s about hope.

Hope, in fact, is the exact word that many of the Corbyn supporters in their teens and twenties conjure when I ask them “why him?” They feel that we are at a crucial point when it comes to deciding, as a nation and as a society, what our values are, and that only Corbyn offers an optimistic vision for the future. Jamie Scott, 19, from Luton admires Corbyn’s desire to “invest in housing and infrastructure that the country actually needs yet no other candidate is willing to sign up to”.

“All of the successes of the post-war government were based around investing to create a better society rather than not trying to improve peoples lives with the aim to 'get by' which is what I see in the other candidates”, he says.

Corbyn’s background also appeals. “He doesn't come from the Oxbridge, SpAd/Researcher background which all of the other candidates do, an elite which is massively over-represented in Parliament,” says Jamie. “The other three candidates can't connect to me as they do not inspire hope of anything better, simply more of the same.”

Some of the people I spoke to came from traditionally Labour-supporting households and think Corbyn represents a return to those values. “I think that, being from the North, it's the IDEA of the Labour Party that I like,” says Alex McBride, 24, from Manchester, “the idea that my grandparents, and parents voted for them; for ideas like decency, fairness, representation, respect, unity, hope - ideas that transcend the Watford Gap at least!”

Laura Fisher, 24, meanwhile, “used to be pretty Tory” before going to university and becoming interested in feminism and social justice. Then, during the election, she was saddened to see her historically Labour-voting family sway to the right. “My family all live in working class areas in the North (Middlesbrough and York) and many of them were saying they were going to vote for UKIP. These were life-long Labour voters or at least supporters of what I feel are (or definitely were) Labour's values.”

Laura says she knew that her family were not going to feel “any more listened to” by any of the other candidates. “I felt that Labour were looking in all the wrong places for their support and trying to replicate 1997, which was a once in a generation thing,” she says.

These are young Labour supporters who know their politics and their history, and have a clear vision of the sort of society in which they would like to live. They state the importance of fairness and inclusivity. They feel passionately that the generations that came before them have failed to provide for them, or have betrayed them politically, especially over student fees. They also feel that their voices have long gone unheard.

Lucie Spadone, 17, joined the Labour party last September, when she was 16, and as well as being inspired by Corbyn's anti-austerity stance, also thinks that he would “give young people a platform to air their views” because his views are in line with theirs. Abby Tomlinson, the 17 year old activist who founded #milifandom, agrees that he is a vocal supporter of her generation. “I think he represents a voice for change that a lot of young people want to hear,” she says. “A lot of young people feel angry at all of the measures the government seems to be taking to make the lives of young people harder. The contempt David Cameron has for young people I think means that a lot want an alternative who they know will support them, and for a lot of people that person is Jeremy Corbyn.”

There's certainly an excitement around Corbyn that is notable on social media and at demonstrations. Whether or not, as some commentators suggest, his popularity ends up being merely a blip, a symptom of the silly season after which Labour members and supporters will abandon the underdog and resign themselves to the centre ground remains to be seen. But you can't deny that there's a contingent of people in their teens and twenties out there who think he's brilliant while remaining underwhelmed, if not disgusted, by the others and their perceived support for austerity.

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Now listen to the NS team discussing the Labour leadership race on the podcast:

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

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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.