Away-day drop-ins on Somerset Levels disaster scene
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Feb 11 12:04:27 GMT 2014
a 'Tory rebel' view - I've had some dealings with
RC and I believe he's standing in the EU elections in the SW
Richard Cottrell: Was David Cameron's visit to
the Somerset Levels really necessary?
By Western Daily Press | Posted: February 10, 2014
David Cameron and local Tory MP Ian
Liddell-Grainger during the Prime Minister's
visit to Somerset last week. Former Euro MP
Richard Cottrell questions the value of the visit
Richard Cottrell, Somerset-born former Euro MP
for Bristol and independent candidate for the
West of England in this year's European
elections, says the people of the Levels have
been failed by politicians yet again playing the blame game.
Politicians making away-day drop-ins on disaster
scenes is always a dodgy business. Invariably
there is always a risk of somewhat tasteless
performances designed to play to the national gallery.
This basic truth was revealed yet again with
David Cameron's recent lightning visit to
carefully selected parts of the flood-stricken Somerset Levels.
The sense of general concern for the plight of
Levels people was pushed aside by the immediate
appearance of the usual Westminster blame game,
with the European elections due in a few months
and a general election next year. So even as he
splashed through the flood waters, we had to be
told that it was all Labour's fault because they
slashed the flood control budget back in 1997.
Moreover, that black cloud looming over his head
practically had Ukip engraved on it.
I happen to believe that none of the
establishment parties enjoys an unblemished
record in this department. Budgets were indeed
cut by Labour. But here is a prime example of
those pretending to be without sin casting the
first stone. On coming to office, the coalition
Government filched not far short of a billion
pounds from the purse reserved for national flood defences.
Budgets to counter flooding are regarded by the
mandarins of the Treasury as remote contingency
funding, all too easy to trim when the inevitable
rainy day seems far away. When you have a
government committed to the virtues of the "small
state", under the heading of ruthless austerity,
then flood control is an attractive sitting target.
The pledge to restore some monies previously
snatched from the flooding budget was the essence
of empty politics, since that does no more than
return the situation to square one without
recognising perfectly obvious additional spending
measures. As it is, the costs of the flooding
over a month and more have made a nonsense of
simply moving sums around on the balance sheet,
on the Levels, never mind practically everywhere
else in the South West. Creative accounting will
still leave the Levels way out of pocket.
Mr Cameron's proper course in Somerset was to
look, listen, learn and say as little as
possible, then sprint back to London and kick as
many well upholstered backsides as he could find
there. He was not there as a first aid worker, or
a spreader of balm, simply the Prime Minister,
who should have been on a mission to acquaint
himself with the soggy facts of life on the
Levels. Saying sorry would not have gone amiss
among folk who deal in plain language. That he
was shocked by the real life scenes, rather than
what he sees on television, spoke volumes for the remoteness of London power.
The contrast with the dignified visit of Prince
Charles could not have been greater. He spoke, as
usual, bluntly about climate change, but the ear
he cocked to the Levelers was well understood as
one of deep concern and even a sense of shame at
how they have been virtually abandoned.
The essential flood prevention risk attendant on
careful dredging of the rivers Parrett and Tone
was set aside equally by both Labour and
coalition governments. What is needed now is a
comprehensive system of management for the Levels
which respects man and nature and which, so far
as humanly and technically possible, ensures that
the appalling images we see today become a more remote contingency.
To that end I repeat my call for a Somerset
Levels National Park, which brings together all
the interested parties of the Levels to the task
of controlled management of this priceless asset;
all facets of local government county, district
and parish; the Environment Agency, interested
bodies such as the NFU and those individual
agencies concerned with wildlife who operate on
the Levels. And by no means least, the Levelers,
who should enjoy directly elected representation on such a body.
And finally, we are no clearer from all these
events as to what Mr Cameron really understands
or even believes concerning climate change.
Having come to office pledged to be the "greenest
government ever" no government has ever done more
to retreat on the climate change front.
Government policy is either in tatters or
staggers from one contradictory position to
another. We are having hurricanes in the West
Country right now Mr Cameron's response is a
quick fix to appease the flood victims and wait
for the sun to come out. With the railways
collapsing in all directions, Cornwall more or
less cut off by train, no county in the South
West untouched by extreme weather, we fiddle while London burns.
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