IT was inevitable that the aftermath of the floods put a dampener on the New Year celebrations of many; this is a hangover from hell, and the recriminations over the Government’s betrayal of Yorkshire and the North, will continue long after the last floodwaters have subsided and the stricken areas have returned to some semblance of normality.
The Government’s under-investment in flood defences has proved to be a false economy and this national lethargy was exemplified by the reluctance of Sir Philip Dilley, the chairman of the Environment Agency, to return from Barbados to face up to this crisis. A former business adviser to David Cameron, this is the man who was appointed in the wake of previous floods which sank the career – and reputation – of his dismal predecessor Chris Smith, the Labour peer. If Sir Philip doesn’t want to do the job, he should step aside in favour of an individual prepared to stand up for vulnerable communities when Ministers take short-sighted decisions.
This is critical. For, as a new year dawns and Britain’s political leaders put their wellington boots away until the next time they have to wear them for appearance’s sake, attention will soon turn other matters, not least the totemic referendum on the UK’s future membership of the European Union.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Cameron will have the foresight to include anti-dredging regulations such as the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive in his negotiations. Though the primary needs of business are pre-eminent, the Prime Minister’s half-heartedness does not recognise the depth of public resentment over the EU’s day-to-day meddling, not least on environmental policy.
Yet, while the repatriation of powers from the EU will dominate the national agenda, the devolution of responsibilities to this region will also be a defining theme. The significance of this should not be under-estimated – Yorkshire is the only area which has yet to reach a consensus on the way forward.
It remains to be seen whether council leaders in West, North and East Yorkshire will join forces or look to go their separate ways because of differing priorities and a lack of political unanimity.
However, it would be prudent of them to consider the following two points. First, they should not under-estimate the power of the ‘Yorkshire’ brand. This disaster has been described regionally, nationally and internationally as the ‘Yorkshire flood’ – the phrase Leeds City-Region has not featured. Indeed this county’s reach extends far beyond the Government’s Northern Powerhouse rhetoric which still needs to be turned into reality. Second, local authorities across this region will need to pool their expertise so residents are better protected in the future – decisions in one area are likely to have repercussion for riverside communities further downstream.
Either way, this county’s long-term economic interests must trump any short-term and narrow-minded political calculations. After all, this week has proved, once and for all, that Yorkshire must stand up for itself in Whitehall’s corridors of powers because, frankly, the country’s political elite cannot be trusted to do so – they only appear to care about their own. What’s good enough for London must be good enough for Yorkshire – this is the blunt message which must be heard loudest of all in 2016 if the tide of anger over these floods is to be turned into positive action.
DESPITE David Cameron’s superficially shallow response to the floods, it speaks volumes about the parlous state of British politics that he defied electoral gravity on May 7. The magnitude of his victory should not be under-estimated – he was able to form the first majority Conservative government in 18 years – but this victory owed much to the Opposition’s shortcomings.
Leaving aside the Scottish Nationalists, who speak with one voice because they have an agenda of their own, Labour is in danger of becoming an irrelevance after electing Jeremy Corbyn in succession to the underwhelming Ed Miliband. The party leader only found time to visit York yesterday, 72 hours after the PM, and Labour’s inability to come up with a coherent alternative – whether it be on the economy or foreign policy – is actually deeply damaging to British democracy because good governance demands considered scrutiny and opposition where applicable.
With the Lib Dems virtually wiped out on polling day, and Ukip falling victim to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system, the likelihood is Mr Cameron will be able to dominate 2016 on his terms – terms which do not always correlate with his promise to preside over a One Nation government.