The floods reveal our government’s hypocrisy

15 Feb

Photo by Jim Linwood, via Flickr

Photo by Jim Linwood, via Flickr

An interesting spectacle seems to be playing out on 24 hour news channels and national newspapers this week. A news story has taken hold of the news cycle that shines a light on the holes in the government’s political narrative. All week politicians seem to have been running around like headless chickens in front of cameras and microphones.

It’s difficult to describe the floods that have been disastrous for huge parts of the country in the past weeks as a mere news story though. News stories come and go like talent show contestants. As many as 5,500 homes have been flooded and train lines have been wrecked. Local businesses are hurting and farmland is currently unusable.

On Tuesday news sites were reporting the flooding could, in some areas, continue for weeks and months. Even after it’s over it could take many more months to get things back to normal. Sue Blackmore highlights in the Guardian how it took 15 months to get her home back to the way it was before it was flooded in July 2012.

But back to our politicians and the bizarre puppet show at Westminster. Last week it apparently became clear to the government that the flood situation was not going away and – if anything – getting worse. They knew they needed to do something.

Or rather, as I am starting to suspect with this government, they needed to look like they were doing something.

Now let me be clear: the government are certainly taking efforts to help the flooded communities. The Prime Minister has said publically that he will spare no expense in solving the main headline of the week. But when clarifying this Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin said ‘money is not the issue while we are in this relief effort’.

Just to be clear, the money will keep flowing just as long as there’s a need for emergency relief.

Reports have been circling since last year of job cuts at the Environment Agency. Last month the BBC reported that around 1,500 jobs in the agency were to be slashed by October. More recently ‘senior staff’ have anonymously criticised the government for a ‘salami slicing’ approach to job cuts, which will include some frontline staff. Reports also suggest that, in coming years, already cash strapped local authorities will have to boost spending on flood defences to make up for an emerging central government funding gap.

All week, whether they’re shifting blame or promising an open chequebook, the government have been skirting round the Environment Agency job cuts issue. And the less said about a connection to man-made climate change the better, apparently. Owen Paterson, our environment secretary is quite openly a climate change denier.

The jobs at the environment Agency will be cut by this government, regardless of any temporary pause in the process. This week the government have had to shoot holes in their metanarrative of deficit reduction because the flooding is a real thing that is happening to real people. But sooner or later it will be back to business as usual and the coalition will continue their dismantling of vital public services.

The floods and their long term effects will not disappear overnight. But I have an unpleasant suspicion that once the TV new cameras are pointed towards a different story the government’s grandiose promises will stop. It won’t be a matter of public image anymore.

This government don’t seem to be playing politics anymore, only PR. The goodwill of a handful of swing voters has somehow become more important to our political elite than the wellbeing of the country. Perhaps this is all Alistair Campbell’s fault …


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