Tom Richmond: Flood victims failed by inept poltiical response

A man rides his bike down through flood water in Eldridge Street, Carlisle.
A man rides his bike down through flood water in Eldridge Street, Carlisle.
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MY heart goes out to the victims of the latest floods. Their nightmare will continue long after the television cameras and ingratiating politicians have left Cumbria.

I just hope this resilient county is not forgotten in its hour of need after being torn apart by Storm Desmond. Like those parts of Yorkshire that have fallen victim to Mother Nature, the clean-up operation will take months and I feel for those who won’t know how to handle officialdom’s intransigence.

And I also hope that the Government now reviews its approach to flood prevention. Although I accept that the scale of the torrents in Cumbria could not have been foreseen – it looks like the county found itself in the path of a particularly stubborn weather front – I cannot abide the complacency of Environment Secretary Liz Truss who, once again, has proven to be unfit for Ministerial office.

First, Ms Truss was amongst the first Cabinet Ministers to sign up to the terms of George Osborne’s Spending Review. She presumably decided that it was more prudent from a career point of view to accept a 15 per cent budget cut without quibble rather than hold out for a more advantageous deal for farmers and rural communities. Sitting obediently next to Mr Osborne when he stood in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, she just nodded in sycophantic agreement at every utterance made by her political master.

Second, the Minister made a frankly embarrassing statement to Parliament in which she defended the £2.3bn that will be spent on flood defences by saying this: “It is the first time a Government have laid out a six-year programme so that we do not have lumpy bits of flood spending.” Lumpy? What planet is this woman on? The Environment Secretary’s skin was only saved by her Labour opposite number’s ineffectual response.

Third, Ms Truss ventured North to Cumbria where she managed to cause great offence to the locals by effectively saying that it was more important for Britain to spend money on tackling climate change in the developing world rather than providing protection for flood-risk areas in this country. She has clearly forgotten the timeless adage that charity begins at home.

As with farming, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs clearly has little empathy with her brief. Her background is education and she was miffed not to have been made Education Secretary in the 2009 reshuffle.

What more could, and should, Ms Truss have done as the scale of the flood damage became clear? First, she should have drafted in the military to help those firefighters and volunteer rescuers who deserve medals for their heroism. Second, she should have promised to 
set up a major task force to get Cumbria back on its feet and at the centre of Britain’s tourism drive in 2016. Third, 
she should be pressing colleagues to ensure all new homes are built with 
flood prevention in mind – even if this means having white goods like fridges and freezers raised off the floor to 
minimise possible damage. Fourth, 
she should have ordered an urgent 
review of planned flood defences to ensure they meet the latest forecasts 
on water levels.

Until Defra is headed by a politician with a genuine passion for the countryside, farming and rural economy, its reputation will continue to sink.

LIKE myself, Hull North MP Diana Johnson was clearly surprised that the House of Commons now adjourns for a November recess at one of the busiest times of the political cycle.

She put this to Commons leader Chris Grayling who replied: “We have a November recess because it was originally the time of the Queen’s Speech, and there were always two or three days either side for Members to spend time in their constituencies.”

Mr Grayling doesn’t seem to realise that the Queen’s Speech was moved to the Spring some time ago – and this from the man in charge of the Parliamentary timetable.

If this is the prevailing attitude, no wonder MPs are held in such contempt.

TRANSPORT Minister Andrew Jones, the Harrogate MP, points out that Yorkshire’s latest rail franchises will include new stations at Apperley Bridge and Kirkstall Forge. Sorry, he cannot take credit for this – they were planned long before he became a MP in 2010.

I KNOW Clement Attlee and John Major liked it when aides slipped into their Downing Office and passed a note containing the latest cricket scores, but that is nothing compared to the two members of Croydon Council accused of being “incredibly disrespectful” for watching a streamed version of Crystal Palace’s Premier League match while taking part in an official meeting.

It speaks volumes about the quality of our public representatives – local councillors need to become far more dynamic and professional.

THE racehorse trainer Jimmy Moffatt was quick to pay tribute to National Hunt legends Sue and Harvey Smith after his horse Highland Lodge was a surprising winner of Aintree’s Becher Chase – one of the main Grand National trials.

The Cumbrian spent a formative year working for the Smiths at their Bingley stables and recalled the lecture he received from the indefatigable showjumping legend on day one: “There are three types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those who are wondering what the bloody hell has happened.”

It’s true in all walks of life – whether it be sport, business or politics.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk