Farewell to a Man of Courage and Conviction
This afternoon in London, hundreds of people, friends, family and other soul mates will gather for the funeral of the former Labour leader, writer and campaigner, Michael Foot. I have been asked to speak, and this is what I will have to say.
SEEING THIS HUGE CROWD GATHERED HERE TODAY, COME TO SAY ‘GOODBYE’ TO MICHAEL, WE CAN ALMOST FEEL HIS DISAPPOINTMENT NOT TO BE STANDING RIGHT HERE. MICHAEL WAS AT HIS BEST ROUSING THE FAITHFUL, AND A MORE FAITHFUL CROWD GATHERED HERE TO CELEBRATE A MOST REMARKABLE AND DEEPLY LOVEABLE MAN, IT IS DIFFICULT TO CONTEMPLATE.
JOHN, TOM & MATT FOOT SAID ‘KEEP IT SHORT’, SO THE BEST TEMPLATE I COULD COME UP WITH WAS OLIVER CROMWELL’S MASTERFUL BREVITY AS HE DISMISSED THE RUMP PARLIAMENT IN 1653 – A SPEECH THAT SHOULD HAVE A HAD A FEW AIRINGS IN RECENT MONTHS. BUT SINCE MICHAEL’S SYMPATHIES LAY WITH THOMAS RAINSBOROUGH AND THE LEVELLERS, I WILL SPARE YOU THAT.
INSTEAD I BRING YOU MICHAEL’S UNPROOFED COPY OF HIS 1957 POLEMIC ‘GUILTY MEN’. NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE EARLIER EDITION OF 1940 THAT ATTACKED THE APPEASERS OF HITLER’S GERMANY. HE COULDN’T FIND A PUBLISHER FOR THAT. MICHAEL TOLD ME THEY HAD TO PUBLISH IT THEMSELVES AND TAKE IT TO TRAFALGAR SQUARE IN BARROWS. IT SOLD LIKE HOT CAKES – PRINCIPALLY BECAUSE PLENTY OF FURTIVE MEN TOOK THE PLAIN COVERED ‘GUILTY MEN’ TO CONTAIN SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
NOW MICHAEL WAS A LIFE LONG OPPONENT OF TOTALITARIANISM. ALTHOUGH HE WAS, IN HIS OWN WORDS AN ‘INVETERATE PEACE MONGER’, HE WASN’T A PACIFIST. HERE ARE HIS WORDS, RINGING DOWN THE DECADES FROM THE TIME OF THE SUEZ DEBACLE; THEY HAVE A PRESCIENCE AND CLARITY THAT DEFY THOSE WHO WOULD DEFINE HIM AS A HOPELESS ROMANTIC;
‘THE TROUBLE IS, IN SO MANY INSTANCES FORCE CAN NO LONGER BE EFFECTIVELY EMPLOYED. IT CANNOT BE USED BY BRITAIN TO SUPPRESS NATIONALIST MOVEMENTS. IT CANNOT BE USED BY BRITAIN IN DEFIANCE OF WORLD OPINION EXPRESSED THROUGH THE UNITED NATIONS. IT CANNOT BE USED BY GREATER POWERS THAN BRITAIN TO IMPOSE THEIR WILL ON THE WORLD – FOR THE PRICE OF USING IT IS WORLD ANNIHILATION.’
MICHAEL WAS DRIVEN BY GREAT CAUSES THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. CAREER POLITICS HAD NO MEANING FOR HIM. HE SPRUNG FROM THE RICH VEIN OF WEST COUNTRY NON CONFORMISM, AND IMBUED THE RADICAL SOCIALISM OF THE SOUTH WALES VALLEYS. HE TOOK HIS CUE FROM AMONGST OTHERS, S.O. DAVIES, ARTHUR HORNER AND OF COURSE ANEURIN BEVAN. IT MUST BE SAID IN PASSING THOUGH THAT PLENTY OF EFFORT WAS PUT INTO STOPPING MICHAEL FROM INHERITING BEVAN’S SEAT OF EBBW VALE, (WHICH JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE).
OF COURSE MICHAEL WILL ALWAYS BE ASSOCIATED WITH TRIBUNE, FROM ITS INCEPTION IN 1937 TO THE PRESENT DAY, WITH EDITOR CHRIS MCLAUGHLAN SHOWING US HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE. WHEN I WAS EDITOR, MICHAEL NOT ONLY SHARED HIS TAKINGS FROM RUPERT MURDOCH, AFTER THE ‘DIRTY DIGGER’S’ SUNDAY TIMES HAD HILARIOUSLY ACCUSED HIM OF BEING ‘AGENT BOOT’, HE AND JILL, TYPICAL IN THEIR GENEROSITY, OFFERED UP THEIR COTTAGE IN TREDEGAR, WHEN YASMIN AND I HAD OUR HONEYMOON. A NUMBER OF THE WEDDING GUESTS MISSHEARD ‘TREDEGAR’ FOR ‘ANTIGUA’ AND WERE AMAZED THAT A TRIBUNE EDITOR COULD AFFORD SUCH A THING. EACH MORNING, MICHAEL WOULD THOUGHTFULLY PHONE BRIGHT AND EARLY TO SEE WHAT WE WERE UP TO.
MICHAEL’S PASSING HAS DEEPLY MOVED SO VERY MANY PEOPLE. AND WHILE THERE IS A LAMENT FOR WHAT WE HAVE LOST, AND FOR WHAT IN PART WE HAVE BECOME, HE, I THINK, HAD HOPE FOR WHAT WE COULD BE AGAIN. HE WOULD BE WILLING LABOUR ON TO WIN. AND NOW MICHAEL HAS BROUGHT US ALL TOGETHER AGAIN, WE MUST HONOUR HIM BY TRYING TO LIVE UP TO THE INSPIRATIONAL EXAMPLE HE SET.
TO MICHAEL’S WONDERFUL FAMILY, TO JENNY, OUR HEARTFELT COMMISERATIONS.
BUT BYRON HAS THE LAST WORD;
“YET FREEDOM. YET THY BANNER TORN, BUT FLYING, STREAMING LIKE A THUNDERSTORM AGAINST THE WIND.”
MICHAEL, WE SALUTE YOU!
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Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots
- Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
- A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
- This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.
The Great Smog of 1952
London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.
All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.
Invisible, but still deadly
Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images
London Mayor Sadiq Khan
After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.
The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.
Image: Transport for London
ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ
Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:
- Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
- Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
- Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
- Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
- Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
- The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
- By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
- By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.
Central London's worst places for breathing
Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot
What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.
It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.
One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!
Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).
Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.
Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).
On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).
Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0
Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street
So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.
Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.
Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.
The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.
However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.
As bad as Delhi, worse than New York
Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.
By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.
The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
- Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
- Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.
Google joins fight against air pollution
Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0
Elephant & Castle, London.
Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London
Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.
It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.
Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.
Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.
- Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
- Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
- British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
White-nose syndrome is nearly as lethal to bats as the Black Plague was for humans.
- White-nose syndrome has killed at least 6.7 million bats, though this estimate was made in 2012, and the current figure is almost certainly much higher.
- Bats serve a crucial role in our ecosystem and economy, and white-nose syndrome is already pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
- Researchers and scientists are working hard to develop novel methods to cure white-nose syndrome; a few methods have shown promise, but none have yet been deployed in the field.
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