BORIS Johnson is not the first Prime Minister to be put to shame by the public’s extraordinary response to flooding disasters in Yorkshire which are now too numerous to list.
Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May have all been culpable to varying degrees; well-meaning promises of help and funding proving to be as watertight as a sieve.
But the public’s generosity of goodwill can only mask the rising tide of public anger for so long – anger fuelled by the human and financial tragedy unfolding in Mytholmroyd and the Calder Valley.
And now the ultimate irony: the first phase of Mytholmroyd’s flood defence scheme, finally approved after the 2015 floods, proving to be powerless in the face of the full force of Storm Ciara.
Emblematic of the indefensible complacency of successive governments, and a North-South funding divide, it left homes submerged, businesses ruined and livelihoods destroyed for – in some instances – the third time in recent years. New buildings, supposedly flood-proofed, were shown no mercy.
Even if the victims were insured – and many were not because of the cost – it does not compensate for the heartache as the clearing up operation begins and the frustration at the inadequacy of the political response deepens.
As always, the immediate priority is the victims – both in Calderdale and the rest of the county – and they can be greatly heartened by the offers of practical help, the kindness of strangers and the tentative pledges from Ministers (if honoured).
But as the filthy floodwater subsides, to be replaced by sleet and snow as winter bites, the frustration will become self-evident as people ask this: Just what will it take for the Government to act?
And, while there are no simple solutions, Mr Johnson – and Theresa Villiers, the largely anonymous Environment Secretary – should be showing far greater urgency, and awareness, than they did when South Yorkshire was flooded last November.
First, outstanding funding promises need to be fulfilled. The reason why the main commuter lines from Skipton and Ilkley to Leeds were shut at Kirkstall is because Ministers are still quibbling over £25m that is needed to complete the River Aire defence scheme in its entirety so the flow of water along upstream stretches can be better managed. Sort it this week – and make sure insurance arrangements are fit for purpose.
Second, task officials to draw up an action plan for every river catchment area and start to prioritise those short-term schemes, like dredging, that could provide some temporary respite until longer-term solutions are identified.
Third, appoint a specific Minister for the Coast and Flooding to co-ordinate local, regional and national policy – the cavalier disregard of Rebecca Pow, a junior minister, in Parliament just last week showed why this role is now needed so urgently.
Climate change will make flooding more frequent – but communities can still be better protected if there’s a change in the political climate. Over to you Boris Johnson. Now prove it to the people of Mytholmroyd, and all flooding victims, that you’re on their side.