Coronavirus is no excuse for Boris Johnson’s flooding failures – Tom Richmond

FIRST business rates had already started to cripple them. Then the floods came. And now, as the filthy floodwater subsides, coronavirus emerges as a serious threat to public health.

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Boris Johnson’s five flooding failures make Jeremy Corbyn look credible as PM fi...

I’m referring to the plight of those business owners – and traders – in flood-hit areas of Yorkshire, and elsewhere, as they face up to a daunting ‘triple whammy’ of setbacks.

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Forgotten by Ministers long before coronavirus became a more pressing priority, it’s even more reason why Boris Johnson should, prior to the escalation of the pandemic, have found the time – in between choosing baby names – to visit those facing financial ruin.

Boris Johnson received a hostile reception when he visited flood-hit Bewdley last Sunday.

He’s the Prime Minister – it’s his job – and he’s the one person (other than his policy aide Dominic Cummings who clearly couldn’t give a damn about flooding) who has the power, clout and supposed authority to make sure these areas are getting the help that they need.

Unlike fawning Ministers and civil servants with a propensity for telling PMs what they want to hear rather than what they need to know – there’s a subtle difference – it’s people on the ground, flooding victims, who know what works, and doesn’t when it comes to insurance, officialdom and so on.

As the Tory leader was told when he made a belated visit to Fishlake during the election: “What took so you so long, Boris lad?” At least it was more friendly – and less blunt – than the raw hostility from the locals when the PM dared to visit Worcestershire after a day at the Six Nations rugby.

After one exasperated man shouted “do your f****** job”, Johnson – uncharacteristically lost for words – replied: “It’s too easy for a PM to come to a place in the middle of an emergency, it’s not so easy, frankly, for the emergency services.”

This was Boris Johnson when he met flooding victims in South Yorkshire during the election.

Some might say that this defence is more water-tight than some of his Government’s flood prevention measures – only soldiers and sandbags saved parts of the Calder Valley during Storm Dennis – but I disagree.

The PM should have been ordering meetings of Cobra – the Government’s emergency committee – to co-ordinate the response, get help to those most at risk and immediate financial support to councils. The Budget’s one-year rates amnesty for some only buys time.

And he could – with sufficient will – have visited victims, if he had the volition to, without a large entourage or TV cameras, to talk to people and gain a better understanding of what he needs to do, as Prime Minister, for these towns and communities that are, ultimately, his responsibility. After all, the issue of flooding – and climate change – will still be exercising the country long after coronavirus has, hopefully, been eradicated.

AS Welcome to Yorkshire gear up for a launch/relaunch at some point under new chief executive James Mason, let’s hope they take advantage of ‘regime change’ and do far more to promote and support flood-hit areas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to emergency workers during his visit to Bewdley in Worcestershire on a visit to see recovery efforts following recent flooding in the Severn valley.

With international tourism in a state of a flux because of coronavirus, the ‘Yorkshire on Show’ event on March 25 has, understandably, been called off.

But this period is still a chance for the organisation to begin to win back of the confidence of local people nearly a year after the downfall of Mason’s predecessor Sir Gary Verity over myriad scandals, financial mismanagement and misuse of public money.

Rather than focusing, almost exclusively, on cycling to the detriment of everything else that this county has to offer, it’s an opportunity – provided the timing is right – to promote the flood-hit Calder Valley, stress that York is open for business and shine a light on South Yorkshire’s hidden gems.

There are also parts of the Dales, badly flooded last year, that feel ignored – and let down – by national leaders. Over to you, WTY.

BAD news, folks. A month after being sacked as Environment Secretary, the hapless – and hopeless – Theresa Villiers is trying to reingratiate herself with the Government.

Now she’s found her voice after losing her Cabinet job, she stood up in the Commons and asked this question: “When the capital city had a Conservative Mayor (Boris Johnson), he cut crime.

“May we have a debate on why the current Labour mayor (Sadiq Khan) is failing to get a grip on the worrying rise in serious violent crime in London?”

Knowing – full well – that such a debate will not be granted on the eve of this year’s mayoral elections (coronavirus permitting), it is the type of opportunistic sycophancy that gives politicians a bad name.

IF you want to know why The Yorkshire Post will be relentless when it comes to flooding, an exchange with a Parliamentary official summed up the ambivalence of Westminster. I was asking why a tweet reporting on the outcome of a recent debate on flood defences had been deleted from the offical House of Commons social media feed.

Quite rightly, they pointed out that it did not fairly represent proceedings because a Government motion, praising rescuers and noting “that further investment in flood defence infrastructure will be necessary in the years ahead”, was accepted without a vote while a Labour call for an official inqury was defeated by 328-227 votes.

But when I asked why the record had not been corrected, they reiterated that the Commons had already “moved on” to other business. After this intervention, they did correct matters.

However, unless political and public pressure is maintained by MPs, the media and others, flooding victims have no chance. Of that, I’m not just certain. I’m convinced.