Inundated with opinions
(but very few facts)
The UK is suffering the effects of its wettest winter for over 250 years; and, unlike most of our bad weather, it is affecting the more populous south of the country. Consequently, the broadcast, printed and online UK media have been full of scenes of widespread storm damage and flooding: seaside promenades and a railway track demolished; villages in the reclaimed marshland of the Somerset levels cut off; and (horror of horrors!), people with homes near the River Thames to the west of London discovering what it really means to live on a flood plain. An excellent summary of the weather and headlines that have been hitting the UK can be found here.
For a week we were presented with the apocalyptic vision of television news anchormen sloshing about in their waders and wellies through the streets of commuter towns in the Tory (Conservative party) heartlands. Fairly late in the day, our Conservative Prime Minister felt obliged to cancel a planned overseas trip, and instead zipped from one beleaguered spot to another above the storm damage and floods in a helicopter, fearing (and in an effort to head off) the George W. Bush/Katrina effect. Back in parliament in London, the blame game was played out with gusto, with one side with scarcely any knowledge of the subject accusing the other side of not having taken the necessary steps to head off and/or contain this disaster (and vice versa). Eventually they settled on a compromise – blame it all on the Environment Agency, which has the job of building flood defences. The agency hit back, saying it was the government’s Treasury department that writes the rules on what can and cannot be spent. The media, of course, joined in, pointing out that the present Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government has cut Environment Agency funding while simultaneously encouraging house-building in flood-prone locations.
Whatever your politics, or views on climate change, or proximity to the seashore or a river, one thing is clear – once again, action to deal with this crisis is being driven by our politicians’ need to be ‘seen to be doing something’, rather than ‘doing the most effective and sensible thing’. The media likes headlines and personal hard luck stories, and gives column inches, online real estate and airtime to individuals caught up in these events. Some house owners and others have been philosophical (e.g. “Most of the time it is idyllic here, living so close to the river.”). But the people who get the most coverage are those who demand that money should be spent. Understandably, the people affected by the high winds and deluge have views on how and where taxpayers’ money should be invested, and state categorically that if only this or that specific piece of dredging or engineering work had been done then “this would never have happened”.
As usual, the voices of those who have spent a lifetime studying the effects of bad weather and rainfall, and who actually know what they are talking about, have been submerged and drowned out by the media frenzy. It was only after many weeks that the ‘Sunday Times’ printed an article by a qualified columnist exposing the ’10 flooding myths’*. At last we had some hard facts! But even this item was buried at the foot of page 29, with no reference to it from the front page.
So, as with the touchy subject of immigration and other notable national issues, we are now faced with ‘government by reacting to the media’. It is, after all, really hard for a politician to ignore images of constituents and loyal voters up to their knees in effluent. On this occasion, for Conservative party supporters in the Thames Valley at least, the s*** really has hit the fans.
* The 10 flooding myths according to Charles Glover, Sunday Times columnist, and which have all been expounded in the UK media, are:
1) That the UK can have the heaviest winter rainfall in 250 years without someone, somewhere, being flooded.
2) That the Environment Agency got it wrong.
3) That dredging rivers does any good.
4) That we can afford to dredge anyway.
5) That we need to defend all agricultural land.
6) That what we need is a new flood defence agency.
7) That we should not bother planning for the increased rainfall predicted by climate scientists.
8) That because you have a house that hasn’t flooded for 30 years, it won’t flood.
9) That the Thames Barrier protects London from river flooding.
10) That anyone is actually to blame for flooding.