WATER, water, everywhere. If having their properties flooded wasn’t bad enough for thousands of householders, suddenly politicians are everywhere as well, looking to capitalise on their misery. David Cameron insisted: “I wanted to come to see for myself what had happened… and to understand what lessons should be learned not only for Dumfries and Galloway but also for other parts of the country.” Dumfries and Galloway? Oh, that was back in December 2009. His message in February 2014? “Everybody needs to get on with the vital work… to plan for the future and to learn all the lessons of the very difficult situation we’re in.” Just how long do these lessons take? Lots of people seem to be blaming the Environment Agency but it sounds more like it’s Michael Gove’s department which is at fault here.
THAT it took Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and co. until this week to finally decide to don their wellingtons is something the citizens of Somerset will be able to ruminate upon ahead of the next election. Despite many of them being forced out of their homes before Christmas, the government’s emergency response committee didn’t even convene until the New Year to address the matter, whilst the Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith didn’t get round to visiting the sodden Levels until last Friday! Still, at least things got moving a bit quicker once the outskirts of London came under threat…
“MONEY would be no object” insisted the Prime Minister as he pledged unlimited resources to help the recovery from winter’s battering. Strangely, this doesn’t (as yet) seem to extend to reversing the planned redundancies at the Environment Agency. Plenty more political fall-out to come from all this, one suspects – as Douglas Hogg learned to his cost the last time a Tory got embroiled in a spat over the expenditure of public money on property surrounded by water.
DESPITE Eric ‘Sandbag’ Pickles failing to show the unity David Cameron expects of his ministers in a crisis, other Whitehall departments are clearly fully ‘on message’. With the armed forces now deployed for the big battle with Mother Nature (or is it the war on public opinion?) Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been prominent making the government’s flood defence in the media this week. Perhaps he just wanted to look useful after the BBC’s Newsnight revealed the Ministry of Defence has committed £2.5 billion for just 14 of Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 fighter jets. Each one will take 8.4 million lines of software code to run but last summer a Pentagon report suggested just 2% of it was of an acceptable standard. Worry not: “By the end of the decade, we are going to have a credible air capability,” insists former Royal Navy chief Admiral Sir Jonathon Band. (His opinion in no way compromised by his new employer being, erm Lockheed Martin.) “All the better for fighting off winter storms,” he didn’t add.
BORIS Johnson hit out at the prospect of the RMT’s since-abandoned Tube strike, suggesting that such action should be illegal unless half a union’s members are in favour. Even though the RMT had the support of 77% of returned ballots, only 40% of its members had actually bothered to vote. Given all the potential ramifications for democracy if it was implemented this is clearly not the best idea Bojo’s ever had. But how about we run with it, just so long as the same principle extends to the mayoral office? On the subject of which: at the last election Johnson gained the support of just 17% of the London electorate. Oops!
JOHN Whittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee has done his bit for the ‘special relationship’ this week. George Clooney, whilst on a promotional tour of his latest film The Monument Men (think Nazi-defying, artefact-saving Indiana Jones-esque WWII caper, without the plot), passed comment that Britain should probably do the decent thing and send the Elgin Marbles home to Greece. Not according to Whittingdale. “I’m a great admirer of George Clooney,” he initially politicked before quickly abandoning the pretence. “I suspect that he probably doesn’t know the history of [them] and the legal entitlement that Britain has to them. He’s an American.” Quite why the width of the Atlantic should preclude any knowledge of this matter as opposed to, say, the 150-odd years that passed between the pilfering of Ottoman-ruled Athens and Whittingdale’s birth isn’t clear. Perhaps the Culture committee chairman doesn’t think they have books over in the New World.