Then the Witch Hunt........ oh, think we've found her.

Well done Baroness Young, that's one hell of a bird sanctuary!

In the to-be-hoped-for public inquiry to follow the calamitous floods, the first witness on the stand should, on the basis of a cracking Spectator article in the Spectator by Christopher Booker, be one Baroness Young of Scone.

In it, he alludes to generations of local knowledge on water management being passed over in favour of fashionable green and wildlife lobbies. Coincidentally, my cab driver last night was very eloquent in making the same point. He himself is much involved in the TE2100 project for flood management in the Thames Estuary. Local man, local knowledge; along with the estuary fishing skippers, farmers and other locals with inherited knowledge. I've heard much the same from many river keepers up and down the country over the last ten years. So, how did water management come to be so combative?

Mr Booker believes the Baroness, (Lord Smith's predecessor at the EA), like some Wicked Witch of the West, is to a large degree culpable. 

Things got markedly worse after 2002 when the Baroness Young of Old Scone, a Labour peeress, became the agency’s new chief executive. Dredging virtually ceased altogether. The rivers began dangerously to silt up. The Baroness, who had previously run the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England, talked obsessively about the need to promote the interests of wildlife. She was famously heard to say that she wanted to see ‘a limpet mine put on every pumping station’. The experts I was talking to had no doubt that this apparent wish to put the cause of nature over that of keeping the Levels properly drained was eventually going to create precisely the kind of disaster we are seeing today.
— Christopher Booker
Baroness Young; Pretty clear where her sympathies lie then

Baroness Young; Pretty clear where her sympathies lie then

I'm not going to rewrite Mr Booker's article except to echo one of the concluding points he makes; that the very animals and birds the Baroness and her misguided acolytes set out to promote have lost their habitats to a much greater extent as a result of her meddling. Oddly, in her answers to the House of Commons Report on Flooding 2007-8 she didn't much mention birds. You do though get a pretty good insight of how someone who has spent a lifetime as a government administrator in one form or another looks at problems. One other point, the second person on the stand at the inquiry should be the individual responsible for her appointment. Just where do these people come from who enjoy generational patronage from government departments with no obvious ability or experience to do the tasks set before them?

It's way beyond time to call time on this tacky and questionable practice of taking average people and promoting them from failure into quangos and EU positions. It's not the taxpayers problem if politicians don't have the moral courage to fire and forget. 

Blue Skies?

The view this morning from outside the office was nothing but uplifting. I think it’s the first blue sky I’ve seen this year!

Unlike some other parts of the country which continue to suffer although real perspective from the media was long since flushed away. Now though, that the pastures of South Western England are more easily identifiable with the paddy fields of South East Asia, and talk on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere is reminiscent of the Blitz, “I see Somerset was hit again last night,” “and they got the Rose & Crown in Chertsey,” it is reassuring that the governmental machine has at last rolled into action. Unfortunately, it again took a media storm and growing political embarrassment to force action to acknowledge the situation that the stoic citizens of the South West and elsewhere find themselves in and past errors of judgement which have exacerbated the problem.

Are not the floods though, another pressing indictment on short duration politics which constantly strive for immediate electoral favour without regard to long term unintended consequences? The paucity of multi decade planning is being laid bare across every part of our society and embrace energy, transport, defence, education and the vexatious issues of long term health and elderly care. We’ll have another opportunity to witness “last safe moment crisis management,” with the next financial crisis which is trundling down the tracks with an arrival time of later this year.

The political establishment would gather much more support if they focused more on doing the right thing, rather than always lurching for the politically expedient path. We’re not as stupid as they evidently think we are. 

A politician trying to look windswept & interesting (click)

Would it be too cynical to reflect that Berkshire and Surrey have been sacrificed to manage the water flow through London? As a plan it does have an economic logic although not for the citizens west of London. The flaw in the plan of course is that such is the weight of water, it’s displaying the temerity to go around the upstream weirs and is now encroaching as far as Richmond. Londoners may be phlegmatic but the floods are worsening, as evidenced by the Navy appearing upstream and not just the Army!  While politicians stare at the floods trying to look windswept and interesting, enquiring minds are left to ponder, what about the moles and is there any truth in the rumour that Somalian pirates have been spotted on the Somerset levels?

Sandbags.jpg

The drafting in of servicemen, if only to reassure citizens, is woefully overdue, even if they don't have the kit, (we sold it all), or training to make a significant difference. As Think Defence points out, using servicemen as general labour to fill sandbags, (probably because it fulfills some hearty belief in that's what soldiers do), is "pure tokenisim." 

There have been some suggestions of remustering the Civil Defence Corp. I think it's a great idea and long advocated here. Call it what you will, but a series of CDC detachments and or TA Royal Engineers stationed up and across the country with dedicated long term depots of food, fuel, light, shelter, pumps, earth moving kit, snow moving kit and so on to support the civil community in times of urgent need is an obvious good. It doesn't matter if they're young reserve soldiers or civilian middle aged and retired specialists, (perhaps a mixture of both), but the poverty of our preparations to deal with disaster is becoming a national embarrassment and a dereliction of duty by HMG. The Americans have FEMA , we've got a bunch of clowns in wellies. Mind you, in the US the Corp of Engineers look after the waterways but then they are almost half the size of the whole British Army.

Why doesn't it happen now? I suspect a mixture of self entitlement, self importance and self preservation from all currently involved. The whole structure, where one exists, needs a shake down.

For the moment, there are no winners. The Environment Agency has let itself and the country down, (even though many planning departments ignore their advice on developing on flood plains), the media are turning the whole thing into a hysterical circus with not even a crumb of scientific analysis, (Charles Glover's piece in the ST about farmers in Somerset putting their topsoil at risk in flooding by over planting with maize is an exception), Westminster have been shown to be the comedy act that they are and some householders have seen a lifetimes endeavor floating away toward the English Channel. All the rest of us, well we'll end up with the bill because we keep electing people with no vision, foresight or appreciation of risk.

Market watchers meanwhile are left to consider the weather impact on food prices. From the drought in California, the snowstorms across southern and eastern US, the hottest December on record in Brazil and our own floods there will be an inflationary impact to come on the High Street.