‘UNPRECEDENTED’ is the word of the moment.
“Unprecedented rainfall,” said the Prime Minister, accompanied by a politician’s despairing shrug intended to encourage his listeners to believe that Britain – well, Westminster at least – had not seen such downpours since records began and that the wet stuff was coming down like stair-rods.
“Unprecedented river levels,” echoed Environment Secretary Liz Truss. Unprecedented, yes. But not unexpected.
“There are always lessons to be learned and I will make sure they are learned.” So said David Cameron speaking after disastrous flooding affected – among several areas – the Somerset Levels in February 2014. No systematic review of flood protection resulted.
Less than twelve months later he’s at it again: “Whenever these things happen, you should look at what you spend, what you’ve built,” he said on Boxing Day after appalling flooding again across the north. “Clearly we should look again at whether there’s more we can do.”
People living in the UK’s estimated five million flood-threatened properties will hope he means it this time. The future looks unpromising. Cameron has ignored warning signs from the start of his premiership. In the first year of the coalition, he cut capital spending on flood defences by 27% year-on-year, despite a 2008 report concluding that much MORE funding was needed.
Funding which rose quickly under Labour was slashed by the coalition. While Westminster considers funding for yet ANOTHER concert hall for the capital and pledges billions to finance high-speed rail links to encourage faster transit INTO London, Northerners through their insurance premiums – if they can GET insurance – are expected to bear up to one-fifth of a £5billion flood bill.
People such as my daughter’s in-laws, Sharon and Dave Reith, who gave up the warmth and comfort of their hilltop Sheffield home to spend Christmas with friends in a low-lying suburb of York (unwise with hindsight, but who knew?).
Sharon’s antediluvian mobile phone has provided her only contact with the outside world. Not the most adept user of modern communications, Sharon has been texting the key moments of their ordeal after they fled upstairs to escape the rising floods.
Unfortunately, her texts to our landline are delivered by a BT robot that sounds like a voicemail from Stephen Hawking. These, as far as I could make out, were her reports:
Sunday, 1pm: Water rising, near top of garden wall. Waiting for sandbags from MoD. Everything valuable moved upstairs with us. May have to evacuate.
Monday 9.30am: Chinook helicopters buzzing overhead rouse us from oblivion of sleep. That and boats up and down street make for compulsive viewing in absence of TV.
Monday 11.31am: No internet. Eight of us here with phones losing power and my little old-fashioned phone-for-idiots our only means of contact with outside world. Wide world of technology my arse!
Monday 12.20: No emergency calls possible. We’ve got the prime minister at the top of our road now. I was hoping for King Canute. . .
The problem is, Sharon, Dave thinks he IS Canute!