New Year resolution for government: sort it out! by BERNARD TRAFFORD

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Maybe it’s because Christmas and New Year’s Days fall on a Friday this year: whatever the reason, there seems to be an attractive pause in this midweek between Christmas and New Year, what appears a longer than usual space just for recovering from the Christmas festivities; eating up the turkey certainly, but possibly trying to eat and drink a little less before we start again on 31 December; and, well, we can take stock. Who knows, I might even manage a New Year’s resolution that’s properly thought out and achievable. Note to self: count no chickens.
It’s a mad world out there. If I’d hoped, during these few days of calm, to make any sense of it, this week’s news has put paid to it. My heart bleeds for those people in Cumbria and Yorkshire flooded out of their homes, some for the third time. Of course there is anger: what else would there be? The Prime Minister visited York and gave assurances that more money would be spent, as did Floods Minister Rory Stewart. That’s unusual from a government hell-bent on cutting expenditure.
They may have been sincere, but they’re missing the point. Simultaneously the Environment Agency has called for a complete rethink of flood defence in this country. The Environment Agency? Aren’t they supposed to be the people who do the planning? So why don’t they get on and rethink it?

The answer is, of course, that so many former arms of government are nowadays kept at arm’s-length. To some these “agencies” represent a form of privatization, to others a clear refusal by government (government of whatever colour, because this started under Tony Blair) to take real responsibility, instead leaving itself able to pass the blame onto a semi-detached body: and all that even after the alleged “bonfire of the quangos” in 2010.
The job may need more money, as David Cameron suggests. In fact, it almost certainly does. But what it actually needs is some real experts (do we have them?) to sit down and work out why these floods are happening in this way. In popular folklore, after all, builders are sneered at for constructing housing estates on former flood plains. “Look at older houses.” we say: “You didn’t get the Victorians building houses where they’d flood”.
But cities like Carlisle and York have learned that flooding is no respecter of age of property. Is it because we have interfered with the way our rivers behave? Certainly York had to make the agonising decision whether or not to close a flood barrier (not that they could in any case: its electrics had filled with water). It is our messing around with rivers that has rendered previously safe places now at risk.
Surely we have the engineers who can help to find the answer: and we should ask those questions and carry out that review before we make any promises about money. It may take the £180 million that Cameron offered: it may take five times that. But until we really understand what we need to do, the promise of vast sums of money is an empty one.
Surely that must be a government resolution for 2016: sort it out!
Further afield, might we dare hope in 2016 for a greater degree of international consensus on achieving peace (I say peace rather than military victory) in the Middle East? ISIS (now more often called, by the BBC at least, the “so-called Islamic State”) is undoubtedly a terrible evil, with no redeeming qualities, a perversion of everything that any religion including Islam can possible stand for. And it is a peculiarly male twisting of scripture that permits slaughter, looting and rape: one of the most disgusting of many horrific stories of 2015 was of the Yazidi girl captives taken as sex slaves by ISIS fighters who routinely prayed before raping them.
Does Britain’s joining the bombing of Syria bring us any closer to a resolution? I don’t know. But the more we pile armaments into one part of the world, the more we see violence escalate, while the number of refugees grows understandably and exponentially. It leaves me wondering if Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal automatically to back the escalation of warfare is maybe less “Loony Left” than the still small voice of common sense.
Whichever way you look at it, then, it’s a mad world. Let’s hope for something better in 2016 and, if you’re of a religious persuasion, pray like mad, because I don’t have great faith in mankind sorting it out in a hurry.
Meanwhile, at times like this I confess we Trafford’s follow the advice of Voltaire’s optimistic character, Dr Pangloss. Having survived the famous Lisbon earthquake and torture and attempted execution by the Spanish Inquisition, Pangloss found his passionate belief in the fact that “all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds” didn’t work out. So he decided there was only one thing to do: il faut cultiver notre jardin (we must just dig our garden).
Bruno just loves Bamburg beach: he’s right!
December isn’t the time for energetic gardening in North Northumberland: so instead we’ve hidden indoors when the rain has been blowing horizontal, and taken to the hills or the beach on those glorious sunny days in between. Still for us one of the great days out over the Christmas period involves a walk along Bamburgh Beach, followed by lunch in the Olde Ship Inn in Seahouses. Oh, and our daughter’s dog Bruno loves it too: hence the picture.
No doubt the New Year will take us back into the hurly-burly of real life, education policy and practice (given our jobs) and everything else: but for now, just for a few days, we’re with Dr Pangloss.
Happy New Year!

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