While the government’s relentless cost cutting measures have been pushed through with the help of damned lies and statistics, in the case of public services, and the vilification of the poor and vulnerable, in the case of those on benefits, the cuts to the nation’s flood defence systems cannot be so easily defended or explained away by political double speak, especially when potential Tory voters of the Thames Valley are wading waste high in flood water. Even blaming the extreme weather looks a bit lame when Tory rag the Daily Express had been gleefully screaming about the coming armageddon weeks beforehand.
There was no point in the below-the-belt attack on the Environment Agency either. The truth is, the massive and ongoing cuts it has suffered in recent years, including a 23 per cent job cull since 2009 (starting with New Labour) and another 1,700 to go, is bound to limit its ability to deal with emergencies. What we got was a fire brigade response that was so wanting that in the end the armed forces had to be called in. Caught on the back foot, David Cameron went into action man mode, rashly promising that “money is no object” in the relief effort.
Nevertheless he was unable to say whether he would halt the redundancies or commit any new cash for major flood defence schemes. This should come as no surprise – money is only no object when it comes to bailing out underserving banks, money is only no object when it comes to subsiding inefficiently run private train companies, money is only no object when it comes to funding wars that end up killing far more people they were intended to save. Austerity is a choice not a necessity. The thought of having to invest in something that does not make a profit, or is not ‘value for money’, is anathema to free market- obsessed politicians.
At first the media reported the crisis as a human interest story as householders saw flood waters invade their living rooms and kitchens, destroy their possessions, wreck their lives. But even mainstream journalists cannot help being proper reporters sometimes. Towards the end of the six week emergency, with several lives lost, thousands of properties flooded and key infrastructure damaged, some began to put two and two together and ask questions about the cutbacks, about climate change and about why construction companies were still being allowed to build on flood plains.
Comparisons also began to made between the British and Dutch environmental agencies. It turned out that the Netherlands spends four times more on flood risk management than we do and regards climate change as a matter of fact not conjecture, continually upgrading its technologies in response.
Cameron has pledged a few million quid in aid to distressed householders and farmers in the hope that no one will notice that when it comes to flood control the government itself is part of the problem.