Our rainy archipelago has been under siege this winter from the most consistently heavy winter rains for around 250 years. Those in the many affected areas effectively seemed at the mercy of nature recently, with only our benevolent government of millionaires harbouring the necessary resources and wherewithal to protect the vulnerable and rebuild the communities flooded. It was unclear exactly why such unprecedented rainfall and storms have flooded our rivers and pounded our coasts, though surprisingly little attention was paid to scientific research which suggested that documented climate change was likely to produce such results. To quote the Met Office’s chief scientist, Julia Slingo, on the floods: ‘All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change… There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.’
Presumably the government’s astounding flop on its ‘Greenest Government Ever’ pledge had something to do with this corresponding absence of climate change rhetoric. Or maybe it’s the fact that the Environment Agency is having massive spending cuts and job losses forced on it by the Coalition. Or perhaps it may also have something to do with the fact that the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is rumoured to be a closet climate change sceptic. In other words, he- not a scientist, you will note- is sceptical of the overwhelming body of research and the overwhelming majority of the scientific community that suggests climate change is affected directly by human agency through carbon emissions and so on. Further, he pressed the government last year to remove all energy subsidies, like those for wind and solar power, and instead push shale gas exploitation.
Whatever the reason, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the current bunch of ex-Etonian, ultra-privileged lot for the weather. Indeed, it is a most welcome development that they have now (as the withdrawal from the historical quagmire of Afghanistan begins) deployed the military to help out in the worst hit areas. Surely this a far more expedient and noble cause than their recent deployment in neo-imperial crusades in the Near East, without which many British and Middle Eastern lives would surely have been spared.
However, the government’s response to the floods has seemed staggeringly hypocritical. Ever since the election we’ve been force-fed an unrelenting narrative that times are tough and the government MUST cut spending to reduce the deficit etc., not least local councils up and down the country, all of whom witnessed their budgets slashed repeatedly by punitive spending cuts imposed from Westminster. Nobody would deny that the immediate response to these floods could probably have been better, so isn’t it logical to suggest that if local government hadn’t been so spectacularly assaulted by Osborne and co.’s ideological austerity programme, the response might have been enhanced?
Further, we now hear Cameron insist that ‘Money is not an issue’ where flood rebuilding is concerned. Good, it shouldn’t be. But hang on, where is this money coming from? We’ve been told for three and a half years that public spending must be reined in. That childcare must be cut (via ‘Universal Credit’), to cut down on spending. That Public Sector pay must be frozen, to cut down on spending. That VAT must be raised, to reduce the deficit. Yet, when the traditional heartlands of the Tory vote in the rural South-West, in Surrey, in Kent etc. are flooded, money is finally no longer an issue, suggesting there are hidden reserves put aside for, erm, a rainy day, so to speak. If this is the case, why slash the Environment Agency’s budget and force redundancies upon it at all?
That Cameron has upped the ante on using the State’s resources to aid the areas affected by the floods in the most vocal and visible way possible is a very welcome development. But we must not forget that it is under his government the State’s capacity to help UK citizens and especially the most vulnerable has been drastically diminished, largely in favour of the private sector. One cannot expect the State (the ‘Nanny State’ as Tories often refer to it) to protect people sufficiently while it remains in the hands of a government who would see it scaled back to the archaic days and laissez-faire ways of a previous century.