Emily Thornberry and Michael Fallon on Marr. BBC
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Emily Thornberry tells Michael Fallon the Tories are talking "bollocks" on foreign policy

Come for the Thornberry shade, stay for the swearing.

The sofa chat on the Andrew Marr show is usually a couple of minutes of lighthearted banter before a 5-piece folk band plays a song about puffins and the politicians have to smile politely, looking as though they understand the concept of rhythm. 

But this morning it was rather more interesting. Labour's shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry must have been anticipating a tough time, and was clearly braced for both Marr and Conservative politician Michael Fallon to bring up Jeremy Corbyn's meetings with IRA sympathisers in the 1980s.

So she decided that the best form of defence was attack - pointing out that the defence secretary had attended a celebration of the re-election of Syria's Bashar Al-Assad in 2007.

"Do you remember where you were on the 27th of May 2007?" she asked Fallon.

Fallon, demonstrating the unflappable quality that once saw him appointed "Minister for the Today programme", did not look panicked as a normal human might. "I'm sure you're going to tell me," he shot back.

Thornberry pointed out that Assad had "won" the election with 99 per cent of the vote, which suggests it might not have been all that democratic. (The opposition boycotted the election and only Baathist candidates were allowed to run.)

Fallon said that ten years ago "we had a different relationship with Assad" and that it was different to meet a foreign leader compared with Jeremy Corbyn's "open support for the IRA". (Corbyn has said he always wanted a "political solution" in Ireland, and that he condemned violence by the IRA and by the British Army.)

Thornberry was unperturbed. "You can't go around making stuff up... you've said, for example, that I want to negotiate the future of the Falklands. That is . . . bollocks."

She added that Fallon could not go "slinging around dead cats" - a reference to the 2015 election, where Fallon derailed a good day for Labour talking about non-doms by accusing Ed Miliband of "stabbing his brother in the back". (The phrase comes from Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby, who is said to advocate throwing out a wild and unfair accusation when the argument is being lost, because - just as if you threw a dead cat on the table - people immediately start talking about that and forget the original subject.)

Who won the exchange? Hard to say. While Corbyn's 1980s track record is worrying, it is also worth pointing out that foreign policy makes hypocrites of us all. Britain has sold more than £5bn in arms to Saudi Arabia since 2010, for example, despite long-standing accusations of human rights abuses

I'm a mole, innit.

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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.