Diane Abbott MP is the most popular London mayoral candidate among Labour supporters, according to a YouGov poll. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Poll reveals Diane Abbott MP as Labour voters’ favourite for London mayoral candidate

What does the surge in popularity for Hackney's MP tell us about Labour voters' hopes for the London mayoralty?

The Evening Standard is reporting a YouGov poll that shows Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, to be the favourite contender for London Mayor in 2016 among the party’s supporters.

Dame Tessa Jowell, the veteran Labour frontbencher and MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, has so far been the favourite among those who say they intend to vote Labour in the 2015 general election, so this is a significant development for those jostling to be Labour’s mayoral candidate in 2016.

The survey found that 17 per cent of Labour supporters would back Abbott, whereas 14 per cent would go for Jowell, the first time the latter – who served as Olympics minister – has been overtaken in this kind of poll. However, she is still the favourite among general voters: 11 per cent compared to Abbott’s nine per cent.

But what chance does Abbott have?

The way that Labour’s mayoral candidate will be chosen is through a closed primary in 2015, where party members and people who register as a party supporter and pay a small fee can take part in the vote. This differs from their old system, which gave trade unions 50 per cent of the vote. It is also a different system to that which then-shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy proposed, in which any Londoner could have voted.

This means whoever is up in ordinary Labour voters’ estimation at the time is most likely to be chosen, rather than the parliamentary party having a great deal of influence. So, in theory, political manoeuvring among candidates matters less than pounding the pavements.

Around Westminster, I’ve heard Abbott criticised by both sides of the House. She was given a lot of stick when running for the Labour leadership in 2010. Lazy is a slight that is often thrown her way (I remember a fellow political journalist telling me they once went to interview her at her house and she emerged blearily in a nighty). By party loyalists she’s often felt to be too divisive and disloyal, approaching politics from quite a hardline leftwing perspective, and Tories can be derisive about her.

One Labour staffer who works on London issues tells me, "I can't imagine Diane Abbott doing that well amongst the PLP, especially considering some of the candidates she is apparently going up against. Personally, I must say the thought of her in charge of London and a multi-billion pound budget to boot is a truly terrifying prospect."

However, the fact that support for Abbott appears to have risen above that of more established candidates such as Jowell and serial frontbencher and current shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan tells us what Labour voters want from their version of Boris. Someone who hasn’t been tainted by too many years on the frontbenches, and therefore speaks plainly and is not afraid to be outspoken against their party.

This is reinforced by Tottenham MP David Lammy, a figure in the Labour Party of a similar ilk to Abbott (though with different politics), being third most popular in the poll. It’s not so much about political leaning; it’s about supporting an outsider who’s more comfortable in their London constituency than around the shadow cabinet table.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.