IT is a dreadful indictment of the Government’s bungled response to the Yorkshire floods that the following question now has to be asked: who is in charge of policy-making?
Is it David Cameron who repeatedly refused to answer questions at Prime Minister’s Questions on whether the proposed £190m Leeds flood defence scheme, ditched in 2011, will now be funded in full days after he took personal charge of this disaster and made an extra £40m available to this county from still unspecified sources?
Is it Mr Cameron’s personal floods envoy, the Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill, who tried to make out on Monday that the £33m of makeshift improvements taking place in the West Yorkshire city was new money when work had, in fact, already started on the scheme?
Is it Mr Cameron’s policy chief, Oliver Letwin, who is conducting a policy reappraisal and whose previous review into flooding amounted to little more than three meetings before the committee in question was wound up?
Is it Mr Cameron’s Cabinet appointee Liz Truss, who commands little confidence as Environment Secretary and who is now distancing herself from last week’s promise to the people of Tadcaster to build a temporary bridge over the river Wharfe to replace the 300-year-old structure which collapsed under the pressure of flood water and split the town in two?
Is it Mr Cameron’s former business guru Sir Philip Dilley, who is chairman of the Environment Agency, the body which has been accused of mismanaging Britain’s rivers and failing, for example, to adequately maintain the Foss barrier in York?
Or is it none of the above?
Judging by the inability of buckpassing Ministers, and others, to give straight answers to straight questions, the Government is – unwittingly or otherwise – giving the impression that no one is in charge because those concerned seem pre-occupied with misleading flood-hit residents rather than showing some humility. For the record, this is not a political game – it is a matter of life and death to those concerned – and Mr Cameron’s inner circle should accept this rather than hiding behind Benjamin Disraeli’s ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ mantra, and also the ineptitude of a Labour party now in danger of being sunk without trace.
Temporary truce: Benn survives ‘revenge reshuffle’ for now
WHY did Hilary Benn survive Jeremy Corbyn’s so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’ when other critics, like Barnsley’s Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden were sacked and Maria Eagle, the defence spokeswoman, demoted by the Labour leader?
The answer is simple. The Leeds Central MP, and Shadow Foreign Secretary, is so widely respected that Mr Corbyn would have faced a mass walkout if he had chosen to oust Mr Benn for making such a passionate speech in favour of RAF air strikes in Syria.
In this respect, it is to Mr Benn’s credit that he has sought to reach a temporary truce with Labour’s leader – the far easier decision would have been to resign with his head held high.
Unlike some, he is not a Machiavellian politician. He has been loyal to each and every Labour leader in recent times, and his continuing presence in the Shadow Cabinet provides Mr Corbyn with one shred of credibility that he, frankly, does not deserve.
After all, Mr Corbyn only has himself to blame for this mess and yesterday’s resignations. He chose to appoint people like Mr Benn and Ms Eagle to positions where policy differences on the Middle East and the Trident nuclear deterrent would be exposed. What does it say about his judgement that he is having second thoughts on his top team four months after making the appointments? And what does it say about his decision-making that it took 48 hours to make relatively minor changes of personnel? In short, the one person who should have been resigning for the sake of his party is the one person who is clearly not up to the task of being Leader of the Opposition – Jeremy Corbyn.
The year of the dairy farmer?
EVEN though the 2016 good intentions of many will already have been broken, there’s no reason why this cannot be the year of the dairy farmer. Thanks to increased public awareness about the plight of milk producers, and initiatives like this newspaper’s campaign for clearer labelling, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society has been able to report a significant increase in sales.
If more people resolve to buy British, and are helped by a food industry that moves to end confusing labels, the dairy industry might just be saved from the brink. There’s still time.