Away-day drop-ins on Somerset Levels disaster scene

Tony Gosling tony at
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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