Coffee House

PMQs sketch: Floods dominated everything

12 February 2014

5:32 PM

12 February 2014

5:32 PM

Wellies off, gloves on. The party leaders greeted each other with forced displays of warmth and mutual esteem today. Outside, the gusts blew, the rivers rose and the heavens wept.

Floods dominated everything.

The PM has spent so much time with emergency committees that he’s adopted their can-do battlefield vocabulary. He talked of ‘Gold Commanders calling on military assets’ which is butch-speak for ‘squaddies with shovels being shouted at by Ruperts.’ Having sploshed around for ten days with flow-rate experts and sandbank architects he is also a world authority on flood management. The Thames, he declared, with Michael Fish-like gravity, ‘is expected to reach a second peak on Sunday or Monday.’ He also estimated the weight of all the water on the Somerset Levels: 65 million tons, (sounds a bit light to me).

Miliband was tempted to make political capital from the crisis. Yesterday Cameron vowed that ‘money is no object’ so Miliband asked if the bottomless pit could stretch to the reinstatement of 550 flood specialists threatened with redundancy by the Environment Agency.

Cameron dodged the question. Miliband returned to it, but only once. He was wary of appearing to spread division when unity is required. So Cameron accused him of spreading division when unity is required. An odd sight: Cameron scoring points by accusing Miliband of scoring points, even though he wasn’t. Point to Cameron.


Backbenchers were more shameless in pursuit of their pet projects. Eco-prophet and turbine saleswoman, Caroline Lucas, said that the endless downpours should force us to pay more attention to climate sabotage.

Many members from the sopping south-west were called. Gary Streeter stood up and breathlessly declared Devon and Cornwall ‘open for business!’
Up to a point, said Cameron. The small matter remains of rebuilding the amphibious London-Penzance railway as an exclusively terrestrial service.

A pair of Plymouth MPs weighed in on the topic of HS2. Too costly, they said, and very poorly routed. Might it not swing through the West Country on a little detour?

Torbay MP, Adrian Sanders, said that ‘over-sensationalising’ had led to cancelled hotel bookings. He suggested a big propaganda push to bring the tourist hordes flocking back to his doorstep. In other words, I’ve had a soaking and the government needs to buy me a nice fluffy towel.

With the storms ousting lesser issues, Cameron was robbed of the chance to boast about his fiscal achievements today. But for the first time in years he was spared the food-bank question.

The economy popped up, right at the close. Stephen Timms, one of Labour’s leading abacus-fiddlers, wanted to turn the recovery to his advantage. He lamented that ‘economic growth has been delayed by three years.’

This lit Cameron’s fuse. He accused Timms of amnesia. ‘He and his henchmen were in the Treasury when we lost 7 per cent of our GDP!’

That hit the spot. For Cameron at least. Nothing like a kick in the knackers delivered in the pub car-park after closing time.

The wonder is that Timms made such a miscalculation. Super-bright and slightly geeky, Timm is a tall, gangly chap with wide hips and an ornamental lisp. He always looks as if he’s just escaped from a production of Charlie’s Aunt. But a seasoned politico like him should have expected rough treatment from the prime minister.

Cameron is deficient in many things but he’s never short of a brutal slapdown.

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Show comments
  • Colonel Mustard

    It was curious indeed that Cameron evaded Miliband’s question about EA redundancies. Miliband was trying to draw the usual Labour correlation between the “cuts” and the redundancies. But the EA is supposedly independent (although directed by adherents to Labour ideology) and responsible for its own budget. Its annual report and especially its staff salary budget fly in the face of a narrative that “cuts” have imposed redundancies but why did not Cameron bat this one back on that basis?

    We know that Labour directed organisations like to blame Tory cuts for the axing measures they are wholly responsible for implementing – and therefore to put ideology above service to their communities. Smith, a dyed in the wool Labour creature, has attempted the ‘cuts are responsible for floods’ line and although Labour has attempted to script that one repeatedly on TV whilst asserting not to get into the blame game it does not appear to have gained much traction.

    This is all rather mysterious and I wonder what the back story and horse trading are, given that all the participants are fellow alumni of the same secretive, elitist management cult?

  • HookesLaw

    And meantime Labour’s alleged NHS winter crisis has not happened – disappeared from the radar of the shroud wavers. The last time it flooded like this hundreds died. So far we are grateful for no deaths.

    • Lady Magdalene

      In case you haven’t noticed, it hasn’t been cold this winter so far, far fewer cold-related deaths should be expected.
      Instead we’ve got massive floods – their severity due to implementation of various EU Directives (presumably gold-plated by the British Civil Services) – and massive incompetence by the UK’s puppet-government.
      The LibCONs even managed to mess up the PR.

  • southerner

    Usual left wing handbag fight between the liblabcon.
    See Cameron and the luvvies made sure there were 7 women on the front bench today. Utterly pathetic all this posturing. Get rid of the bloody lot of them.

    • HookesLaw

      Usual sour comment from you.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    What would Bangladesh do in such circumstances?
    Has anyone considered calling them to seek humanitarian assistance?

    • realfish

      Perhaps if the Isle of Wight was destroyed or 150,000 were dead, floating in the Solent you might have a point – but in the meantime a sense of perspective might be a good thing. Barking.

  • HookesLaw

    The EA has a budget and when faced with having to llive within it, it talks of cutting its most emotive part.
    The plain fact is the govt have been continuing to spend money on flood defences – so maybe Miliband was wise to shut up after his opportunistc dog whistle.

    As for the economy – workers have decided not to price themselves out of jobs and have therefore got a much higher standard of living than wthey would have had on the dole. The ‘cost of living crisis’ line is as totally bogus as they come.

    • GnosticBrian

      The Bank of England has revised its forecast for UK growth upwards to 3.4% – oddly, Milliband didn’t offer his usual critique of coalition economic policy.

      • HookesLaw

        I’m shocked I tell you…. shocked.

  • In2minds

    “battlefield vocabulary…….butch-speak… “

    A question, why do these gold plated public servants talk this way? It
    makes them sound deluded.

  • Daniel Maris

    He’s taken two months to call in the army. Pathetic!

    • telemachus associates

      You have to be very careful to rely on the army for anything.
      Once they get involved they will always see better ways to deal with it than the politicians.
      And then think about the incompetence that led to it.
      And that they would have not let it get to this.
      And then the need to ensure competence for the future.
      And then the debate as to whether to run it (UK PLC) themselves.
      Or to facilitate a strong Government rather than the weak Coalition.
      A strong Government of course made up of right wing political elements drawn from the Conservative Right and UKIP and governing by orders in council.
      If you do not believe me go to any social event with the military and talk to the Colonels.
      Dangerous indeed.

    • El_Sid

      Not at all – because in case you hadn’t noticed, the Armed Forces have got better things to do, like fighting a war. It’s utterly nuts to take highly-trained servicemen (not all Army) away from tasks that may be planned years in advance, and get them navvying for the cameras. We’ve already seen people being called away from training courses which mean there will be gaps in the front line. That’s how tight things are at the moment.

      If you need some bodies to fill sandbags, then go down the local Job Centre like anyone else wanting some temporary labour. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to splash Pinzgauers through water in front of the journalists, but it’s just daft to think that the measure of whether politicians are Doing Something is whether trained killers have been set loose.

      • Daniel Maris

        Well you confirm what I believe the thinking that dominates the British Army and the Ministry of Defence, that they are a professional fighting machine who aren’t there to support the people in times of extreme need.

        The army has large numbers of amphibious craft. I am not sure I’ve seen even one in operation in support of people caught in the floods.

        As for training – well what better training could you have than an emergency requiring you to improvise aid.

        • HookesLaw

          Ignorant cobblers. Go ahead and take Sid’s comment out of context. Typical.

        • El_Sid

          Why are you surprised that the Army thinks its main job is to fight wars? Given that we’re in the middle of one right now plus involved in a variety of minor conflicts like tidying up the mess in West Africa.

          Yes it’s a professional, specialised job, where “training” might mean qualification on complex radar equipment or a couple of weeks on exercise in the Arctic, not organising some men to build a wall of sandbags. Gone are the days when the Forces had lots of men sitting about twiddling their thumbs, they’re stretched pretty thin at the moment, there just isn’t much slack in the system to go round covering up the cracks when politicians screw up. Like checking tickets at the Olympics for example.

          Sure, they have some special toys that may have some use – eg but 80% of the tasks that they are doing could be achieved by getting the unemployed off their backsides for some “National Service” for a few weeks.

  • Pier66

    Axe the 550 of Enverment Agency that probably are 550 fucking Labour or worst lefty!!!

    • teledaft

      They have already been shafted,another fucking from you won’t even touch the sides

      • GnosticBrian

        This from the EA’s own 2012/13 report: “We have welcomed the extra £120 million of funding from government over the next two years for flood risk management schemes. This year alone we have reduced the risk of flooding to a further 55,700 households. The additional funding will protect another 60,000 households”. The agency has just short of 12,000 employees and more than 6,000 motor vehicles. There are seven Directors on salaries in excess of £130,000, with the best paid on nearly £200,000.

        • teledaft

          Yes I agree,but funding was not available for the Somerset levels,which is where this argument began.EA staff are now being abused on the ground because of this senseless argument.There is a time for analysing the failures andits not now

          • GnosticBrian

            Abusing the EA’s front line staff is uncalled for. As is the repetition of the politicians / senior managers’ mantra “lessons will be learned” – sets my teeth on edge, like chalk on a blackboard. Grrr!

            • Daniel Maris

              I agree. Dealing with floods is a pretty basic part of any competent government’s duties. Obviously you can’t plan for every eventuality but we know where the flood plains are and where there are valleys at risk of flood. It doesn’t take rocket science to have stores of bags and sand ready, or indeed to have an organisational response ready.

              I think there is an argument for restoring some sort of civil defence organisation that would co-ordinate the aid effort to help those affected by or at risk of flooding. It doesn’t need to be elaborate – clearly in some areas there are already volunteers working with local councils. But it needs to be much better directed and able to call on the aid of the military. It could maintain stores in vulnerable areas, train volunteers and establish regular liaison with the military.

              • HookesLaw

                And the govt have been assiging countless millions to flood defences.
                How does a govt only 3 years into power dream up protection from the worst sustained rainfall in over 200 years.

                Civil defence? We have local authorities whose job it is.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Well they haven’t done a good job have they? – with thousands of householders complaining about lack of sandbags, being left to their own devices, no police patrols etc etc.

                  Take off the sunshine specs and face up to facts: the government has been incompetent.

                  They are three months short of being 4 years in power actually. We are not talking about preventing the floods necessarily – simply have a good organised response that makes use of armed forces personnel.

          • realfish

            ‘…but funding was not available for the Somerset levels…’
            Yes it was. But it is clear from environmental submissions as late as July (after last year’s flooding) that the EA were not keen to dredge the Levels, which suddenly, they now say would have made a big difference (‘it wouldn’t have helped’ was their position before Xmas).
            But you are right. Expect the next call from Miliband to be for a ‘judge led inquiry’.
            BTW: Miliband criticised the Government for not putting measures in place to address flooding in Wraysbury….which flooded badly in err, 2003.

        • Daniel Maris

          There are seven thousand bankers on salaries in excess of £500,000 doing f-all for their money.

          • GnosticBrian

            If it is that easy and so rewarding, why don’t you join them?

            • Daniel Maris

              I couldn’t live with the shame…

              • GnosticBrian

                You could always expunge the shame by donating all earnings and bonuses above the “living wage” to charity.

                • Daniel Maris

                  No, because I’d know the gains were made unethically, through being granted a joint state monopoly with other banks to skim off money like the mafia do in casinos. 🙂 I’d know all my claims to expertise and honest conduct were bogus, having regard to the herd instinct of bankers and the way they were so easily bamboozled when they bought billions of dollars’ worth of toxic debt believing it to be triple A rated. I couldn’t associate with such a dishonest and worthless profession.

                • GnosticBrian

                  Or it could be that you are talentless.

          • HookesLaw

            How do you know?

            • Daniel Maris

              It’s probably a wild underestimate.

              • GnosticBrian

                Euan Blair having quit investment banking, does your estimate include Ed Balls’ multi-millionaire brother?

        • Chris lancashire

          Thanks for a succinct and informative comment.