Tom Richmond: Power to the people? Not with these bright sparks in charge

David Cameron
David Cameron
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COMPLACENT. That is the only word that does adequate justice to the Government’s response to the latest floods and all those homes left without power over the festive period.

Yet David Cameron only has himself to blame for this dereliction of duty after Twitter, his preferred form of communication, exposed his administration’s drift and lack of leadership.

The Prime Minister started off with the best of intentions with this tweet on the Monday before Christmas: “My thoughts are with those affected by severe weather, particularly those without power. Govt depts and agencies doing all they can to help.”

So far so good.

The next day brought this update: “I’m across plans to get electricity to many without power. My thoughts are with them and those facing travel problems this Christmas Eve.”

Nice to see the PM taking personal responsibility – just like hospital A&E waiting lists.

Three days later, and the Tory leader’s visit to flood-hit Yalding in Kent for a photo opportunity goes awry when he is confronted by angry residents who want to know why the power companies, and public bodies like the Environment Agency, have not got their act together.

It prompted this tweet from Cameron after he was pictured with one householder: “I told Tim in Yalding we’d help him recover from bad flooding by getting power back on & ensuring a quick clean up.”

An authoritative leader would have ensured that this was the case over Christmas when it was patently clear that up to 150,000 home owners had been let down by the virtually non-existent communication of the agencies concerned.

It got no better 24 hours later when Britain’s “supreme leader” issued this edict on Twitter last Saturday: “I’ve asked the Dept for Communities & Local Govt to ensure councils have robust plans in case of bad weather and flooding over New Year.”

You simply could not make it up. Cameron, after all, heads a government that has refused to provide adequate compensation to areas hit by flooding – the whole of North Yorkshire received just £900 from Whitehall to pay for £2m of repairs to roads and bridges following the floods of 2012.

And it got worse that evening when Energy Secretary Ed Davey started touring the TV studios to say that he had urged the power companies to redouble their efforts – what had he been doing for the previous five days?

It continued on Monday when Davey’s colleague Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, issued this statement: “With more bad weather forecast for the rest of the week, I have chaired a further emergency COBRA meeting to make sure power companies and local authorities are ready to respond quickly. I don’t want to see people left without power for days again.”

Why didn’t he – or anyone else – think of this on Christmas Eve? Presumably they were too busy with their own festive plans rather than their duties to the country.

Such platitudes are not good enough and prompted me to question whether Cameron had actually been asking the necessary questions prior to the floods – and was simply using Twitter to ingratiate himself with the country in the style of Tony Blair.

It is impossible to foresee extreme weather – I accept that – but what is inexcusable is the failure of the authorities to put in place sufficient contingencies or simply keep their customers informed of any progress being made.

Instead of blaming the Environment Agency, electricity firms and local councils with the type of buck-passing that has become a depressing feature of contemporary politics, David Cameron and his Ministers should have been asking why they were all so slow to respond – and why was there no-one in Whitehall chivvying these agencies along until the irate residents of Yalding gave the Prime Minister a piece of their mind.

They were right to do so and I hope that others do likewise when Cameron, or any other politician, next drops in for tea and sympathy. Perhaps then they will realise that the Government, too, has serious questions to answer about its own shortcomings when it comes to responding to emergencies – and protecting vulnerable areas from flooding.

MARY Creagh, the Wakefield MP and Shadow Transport Secretary, has blamed the Thomas the Tank Engine children’s series for a lack of female train drivers.

“In the Thomas the Tank Engine books there are almost no female engines. The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway,” she moans.

“There is a preponderance of men in the transport industry and I am very keen to unpack some of the myths that stop women from taking up what are often highly paid and highly skilled jobs.”

So what? Both Ruth Kelly and Justine Greening have served as Transport Secretaries in recent years while the chief executive of the East Coast franchise – which runs through Creagh’s West Yorkshire constituency – is the quietly impressive Karen Boswell.

Three points. First, passengers do not care about the gender of the driver; they just want more trains to run on time. Second, Thomas the Tank Engine was created in 1946 by the Rev Wilbert Awdry, an Anglican cleric, to entertain his son, Christopher, who was suffering from measles – 21st century equality laws were not his priority. Third, it does not bode well if this is the limit of Labour’s transport policy.

STILL no response from Michael Gove to this newspaper’s challenge on Monday to the Education Secretary to spend a month shadowing teachers at Dewsbury’s Thornhill Academy before he introduces any further changes to schools policy.

To be honest, I’m not even convinced that the top Tory will have bothered to watch Channel Four’s enlightening Educating Yorkshire series because he believes that he has a superior knowledge to those teachers who work with troubled pupils on a daily basis.

I’ll keep you posted.

I HAVE felt sorry for Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow on the England cricket team’s disastrous tour of Australia – both young Tykes have not played to their potential and have also been left to defend the indefensible in front of the world’s media because their management insist on the use of phrases like “there’s all to play for” when the game is, in fact, up.

What has surprised me is the vitriol, rather than constructive criticism, that they have received from Test Match Special pundits Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan who have explained, even ranted with glee on occasion, about the technical shortcomings of both young players.

I’m slightly surprised. Boycott, after all, is Yorkshire’s president and Vaughan is a committee member at Headingley. While they’re well-remunerated for their media duties, shouldn’t they be helping Root and Bairstow come to terms with their deficiencies?

At least Jason Gillespie, the Australian-born coach of Yorkshire, has kept his own counsel on Sky Sports. Good on him.

I HOPE the three knighthoods awarded to Tory and Labour backbenchers in the New Year Honours is not indicative of the “new politics” promised by the main parties in 2014. Happy New Year.