Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Floods - will they end in tears for Cameron?

During the First World War, when the Russian Army was facing devastating setbacks,  Tsar Nicholas II took personal command.  We know that happened to him and his poor country.  Let's hope the consequences of our prime minister's bold step in taking command of the floods crisis are less dire, both for him and the UK.

Although we've had a lot of rain my bit of Yorkshire hasn't yet been much affected by flooding.   I can therefore study the situation from the security of a warm dry house and  feel rather detached from the problems.  This enables me to  muse rather airily on what the situation tells us about the reactions of the people affected and what they tell us about our politics.  I freely acknowledge that my thoughts and feelings might be very different if I were personally affected.

Firstly,  I do wonder, perhaps unworthily, if there would be quite so much fuss made if the affected areas were in Barnsley or Bradford rather than the prosperous south (though I'm not all that good at geography, maybe the Somerset Levels aren't all that  prosperous.)

Secondly, the people who have been affected do seem to come over as a lot of complainers and moaners.  In an article in this morning's paper Simon Jenkins mentions just one phlegmatic lady who staggered a reporter looking for yet more complaints by saying :  "I't's a flood, just one of those things."  Otherwise the "blitz spirit" seems remarkably absent among the victims, though not it seems among the hundreds of volunteer helpers.

Thirdly, the bickering among the politicians, desperately trying to shift the blame, and unblushingly  distorting the truth as to who has cut expenditure on flood defences the most, does them little credit  Chris Smith comes out well in my view, and Eric Pickles looks even more foolish that usual. However, the childish and disingenuous squabbling further undermines the confidence of the electorate in politics as it is currently practised.

Fourthly, austerity is suddenly swept aside and, says Mr Cameron: "Money is no object" in helping with flood relief.  What is needed will be provided, never fear.  Business are to be excused business rates, households given up to £5 000, though I'm not clear whether this is protect their property  against future damage rather than compensate  them for losses in this one.  But most (I know, not all) of the houses seems pretty substantial, in areas where house prices have rise substantially over a long period.  If they've lived there for any length of time many owners will have amassed tens,maybe hundreds, of thousands of pounds of value for no effort on their own part.  And most (again not all) will be insured for the damage done.  Is there to be an "Upper Capital Limit" (£16 000 ) or Lower Capital Limit (£10 000) below which one must reduce one's savings in order to qualify for other forms of welfare?  Could this largesse be better distributed?   I can't help thinking that many of Britain's "Benefits Street" inhabitants would be able to rebuild their lives, never mind their properties, with an unmerited windfall of £5 000.

Fifthly, that the problem has arisen at all is a reflection of our stupidity.  For half a century or more we have forced politicians to peddle the myth that we can have a vibrant state without paying for it.  In addition we have been conned into believing, as Jeremy Paxman reminded us last night, President Reagan's sneer that "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" are the most dangerous nine words in the English language.  So we've seen the state rolled back, put a party into government which promises for ideological reasons to roll it back further, believed all that nonsense about the private sector giving better value for money than the public sector, and then seem surprised that, when we need it, the public sector is not sufficiently robust to give us the help to which we feel entitled..

Finally and most shamefully, the Daily Mail has  launched a petition  ". . .  calling on Government to divert foreign aid to flood-hit British families."

 I feel embarrassed to belong to a country where a newspaper with such a warped sense of priorities is a best seller.

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