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Referendum on Europe: France says you cannot switch to rugby when you are already on the pitch playing football. Do the Europhiles not realise that we only ever signed up to buy each other a drink rather than take to the pitch and play a game with rules that were never of our own choosing?

There can be little question that David Cameron is going all out to steal the initiative on Europe whilst all the other Political Parties are preoccupied with their leadership issues.

We would however be foolish not to take note of the responses coming from European speakers, whether positive sounding like Angela Merkel’s latest comments, or more contemptuous in nature as those from the French Minister Laurant Fabius who tells us that Britain joined a football club and now wants to play rugby.

Much will be made of the German Chancellor’s intervention which sounds far more favourable and positively aligned with the PM’s rhetorical stance on renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with our European Partners.

But behind the scenes, should we perhaps be just a little more eager to question whether this represents the early stages of yet another gleaming political fudge of the kind that we have sadly become all too used to, in a world where politicians are hardly rated for their qualities of trust?

Europe has arguably been the most divisive power in British politics for a generation or more, for reasons that we should perhaps not feel convinced that even the PM actually understands.

The centralisation of power, taking it further away from the people and placing it in the hands of the unelected, does after all rather fly in the face of the whole concept and convenient truth of the increasingly political union which was mythically presupposed to prevent another autocrat accumulating power over Europe, following the devastation that Hitler’s dark chapter wrought for millions across the Continent.

However, if this very aim was indeed the ‘football game’ that the French Minister has suggested, he, like many others should perhaps reflect on the fact that in terms of our only referendum on the European project to date in 1975, which pretty much did nothing more than authorise politicians to make a commitment to a free trading agreement, the British people have in fact comparatively done no more than agree with the European states to buy each other a drink in the bar, whilst participating within some unfavourably biased political ‘game’ on a bent playing field was never actually on the agenda.

Regrettably, many of our political leaders since then, have presided over the steady drip, drip, drip of power to the European Parliament through the devil-ridden-detail of documents such as the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, with the situation only being made that much worse by our perhaps overzealous cultural penchant for doing everything by the book and accepting changes to laws that affect almost every part of our lives like they really mean something, seemingly all without question, but actually with a rather large dollop of misplaced trust.

Shame then that successive British Governments haven’t taken the same approach with the power entrusted to them by us. Deliberately or not, they have acquiesced in allowing the European elite to expect little more than complete subjugation from the British People when our elected representatives have never had any democratic mandate to do so.

The principle of free trade with Europe is a good one, and nobody should be under any illusion about the 2-way dynamic of this relationship which serves European commercial interests as lucratively – if not more so, than our own.

But that is as far as it should have gone for us, and the fact that our political classes have allowed a situation to exist where a majority decision of foreign nations can prevent us upholding rights that are actually ours, and simply dismiss that notion as an attempt to change the rules of their ‘game’ is ridiculous.

Worse however, is the standing commitment of a British Prime Minister to support and uphold a ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum, which however it is worded, will surely result in a commitment and increasing material and political deference to foreign powers on the part of the people of this Country which voters have never knowingly signed up to.

The most concerning factor in all this, is not that we already have David Cameron shaping up his own Yes campaign whilst Nigel Farage almost certainly hopes that he will be the face of the No.

It is the simple non-existance of any political force which is even attempting to elucidate the real meaning and feeling of how the silent majority of people feel about the laws which are used to govern us, and how we all want to feel the return of a touch of reality in government, which doesn’t burn appropriate bridges with the Nations that abut our shores, but doesn’t also surrender the historic freedoms of this nation that quite frankly, nobody from outside is culturally equipped to fully understand.

Picture thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

The questions of Scottish Independence, English Devolution and voter disenfranchisement could be solved in a matter of months. But control freakery at the top will only pay lip service to genuine devolution and it would be far too simple for them to use a solution that already exists…

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Last Fridays meeting between David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon will surely prove to be yet another monumental milestone in the future of the Union.

Attempting to take the whole mile after they had been given Cameron’s proverbial inch may well have been Ms Sturgeons modus operandi all along, but the Prime Minister would do well to bear in mind that the momentum is all with the SNP at this moment in time, and especially so when it was the manipulated public awareness of that very fact that arguably put the Conservative Leader more comfortably back in No. 10.

The words of hollow statesmanship may be contrived to sound like the PM is being tough. But the word ‘no’ can all too quickly be overused and the only way that the Union may now be truly saved, will be for the Government to begin saying yes to the questions that the grassroots Scots have not even outwardly asked.

Devolving power only as far as the Scottish Parliament will do much to enhance and progress the march of the SNP towards the Independence which many of us no longer see as being any more than perhaps a few years away if things continue politically as they are. Scotland’s leaders will surely get closer and closer to attaining the level of power that they so badly crave but could never realise as long as they continue to be part of the UK.

But the people, the voters, the electors who have facilitated this Westminster-bound charge will see no real change in the lives that they live. Indeed, they may well find themselves much more poorly off and continuing to be just as disenfranchised, all because another set of politicians have sold them short as currency for their own personal and self-motivated gain.

The sweet irony of all this is that everyday people across the UK feel just the same and just as disenfranchised as the Scots, but do not experience the same kind of tribal feeling of belonging or commonality between people which has been supercharged in this instance by the promotion of Scotland’s national identity.

Nationalism in this sense truly has become far more of a danger to any semblance of a healthy basic standard of living or status quo than even austerity in time could prove to be, and the reality is that the Scottish Question could be solved in exactly the same act as any questions that have arisen about English, Welsh or even Cornish devolution.

So why exactly, are the politicians not pursuing what is arguably the most simple, straightforward and easy to implement solution. One which would connect people with decision making on their doorstep, whilst removing any need for side-stepping ruses like City Mayors. A change that could bring talk of independence to the immediate halt that anyone living in the real world knows is where it should actually be?

When you consider that this solution already exists right across the Country and would have the ability to administer the devolution of decisions that should be made locally, rather than by a Parliament that seems to many so very far away, any sensible person would be hard pressed not to ask the question.

So then; consider that below the tier of Westminster based government, there is not one; not two, but three tiers of localised government operating, with representatives in most cases already elected by the people, who could and no doubt happily would assume much more responsibility for the decisions which really matter to the localities in which they live, if the Government were to relinquish the appropriate powers and let them do so.

Parish and Town Councils are the most localised and arguably most accessible form of Government in the UK. Yet their responsibilities seldom extend beyond buying and locating dog bins or bus shelters and looking after community assets like small play areas, recreation fields and perhaps an historic Town Hall.

Next comes the District level authorities which harvest our council tax and assume responsibility for matters such as Planning, Licensing, Environmental Health and collecting our waste.

Then there are the County level authorities which look after the not-so-important roads, Education, Social Services and interact closely with services such as the Fire Brigades.

They all sound very administrative or bureaucratic and that’s because they are. People vote to elect the members or councillors that represent them on all of these authorities. But much of the responsibility many people understand them to have isn’t theirs at all. It actually reflects Laws and Policies which have been created by Westminster.

The wriggle room or space for decision making which is truly independent of the Westminster influence is scarce within local government. In reality, it is just sufficient enough that central Government can blame Councils or use them as a convenient scapegoat for political expediency. For instance, Westminster happily passes the buck over the true causes of cuts to local services whilst reducing the size of the bottom line they themselves have to account for in the drive for greater fiscal austerity.

The irony should not be lost on any of us that like most areas of government, local councils are being forced to change the way they work to save money, but the powers to instigate the changes that they really need are held back by a distant political elite which is obsessed with monetary cost rather than the real-life impact from a lack of meaningful reform.

As power is increasingly centralised towards London through the sharing of services and amalgamation of local authorities, power is being taken further away from people at every turn and it is this very act which is continually fanning the flames of discontent within an electorate that quietly knows its influence over even the most practical parts of their lives is becoming ever more remote.

The reality however, for those who have worked closely alongside all the lower tiers of government, is that when those rare moments arise when people sense there is a real chance to influence change, the presence of that opportunity can literally electrify interest in local administration and reconnect the electorate in a way that even the phoney wars which serve as our elections cannot do.

For those who have experienced this connection first hand, there can be little doubt that bringing real power back to street, neighbourhood, village and suburban level would quickly re-engage the electorate and have the potential to bring in a whole new generation of politicians from the grassroots level who didn’t simply join a political party one day because they thought they would be a pretty good prime minister.

The question is of course, why is Westminster not using the existing machinery of government to solve the bubbling crisis created by the SNP leaders and the mishandling of the issue of devolved power, when every thread of common sense and voter-centric thinking says that is exactly what they should do.

Indeed, we might also ask why the promise of City Mayors and the creation of yet more tiers of government and the political stooges that will inhabit these roles is necessary, when many councillors are already in place across the UK, who have distinct connections to our localities that focussing power on just one person at a greater distance could never achieve?

For those who have swam around the political goldfish bowl with their eyes open the answer is regrettably simple.

Its all about control, and despite the political system being infested with the self-serving at every turn, you could quite easily say that there are no greater control freaks at work right now than the occupant of no. 10 and the leader of the SNP.

Both stand to gain personally by concentrating as much power as they can within the realms and reach of their particular roles.

To one, devolving real power to potentially thousands of others who they cannot control politically makes absolutely no sense at all. To the other, giving credence to the idea that power should be focused as near to people as it is possible to do so would instantly destroy the dream of becoming the player on the international stage that British politics is otherwise currently only able to allow of the leader of one of the two main Political Parties.

Some would quickly argue that the lower tiers of government are not equipped to deal with real decisions; but that is exactly what they have been elected to do.

Others would say that responsibility needs to be taken by the people who are most capable of using it with the hint of blind acceptance that MP’s should automatically be assumed to be ‘the right people’ to govern our lives. But we might rather ask, who is better qualified to choose those representatives than the people themselves, when Westminster is now constructed of people who did no more than tick all the right boxes for their political parties and thereafter, did not do a great deal more than sign a series of forms. Can we really say that career politicians with no experience of the world outside are really the people we should entrust with the decisions that affect us all in every way?

The danger of Cameron playing power games with another political leader who is arguably far more awake and attuned to the realities of playing the public song than he could ever do so, is potentially very severe indeed.

Empowering existing councils and creating new ones where they don’t exist could potentially remove the need for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in one swift stroke. It would undoubtedly answer the question of voter disenfranchisement across England too. But it would also require true statesmanship of a kind that many of us have simply never seen.

The very regrettable and destructive alternative is the continuing empowerment of a different kind. That of Scottish, then Welsh and then potentially even English Regional or County Independence with a widow’s web of bureaucracy and additional cost that simply doesn’t bear thinking about. A concept which may play very well into the federalist plans of a politically united Europe, but would ultimately leave the real power for issues that matter to real people in their everyday lives, lying in the hands of a majority of non-elected bureaucrats and foreign politicians who were neither born here, nor have nor ever will live anywhere within our great and currently unified land.

 Top image thanks to http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk 

A Blue Flush, political business as usual and UKIP may be about to miss its greatest hour as it behaves exactly like the rest…

Frankenstein-001The morning after the Scottish Independence Referendum last September was significant in more ways than most people realised at the time, and with ramifications that few of us could have really banked on being the case at the time.

Within just a matter of hours, David Cameron weaponised the SNP by making a series of commitments on devolution which were almost certainly impossible to deliver without the help of a meaningful majority, and then switched on the voltage to electrify this electoral monster by moving straight to the flawed agenda of English votes for English laws.

Love them or hate them, the political shrewdness of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon should not be underestimated. Nor should their savvy approach of hiding their intentions in plain sight, as Mr Salmond clearly did so when he would not talk down the possibility of a return to Westminster almost in the same breath he had used to tell us that he was standing down as SNP Leader.

Looking at all this and the chain of events which has unfolded over these past 8 months, we can argue that many of the omens or signs of what was to come were present early on. David Cameron and today’s Conservative Party have benefitted much more from that clearly ill-considered and badly thought out approach, just as the SNP have capitalised and effectively won an election by skilfully exploiting it at every move.

Blue FlushHowever, the blue flush phenomenon last Thursday doesn’t actually give Cameron the sweat-free incumbency that he would have us all believe. Indeed, we might all do well to remember that we have had months of being force-fed the realities of a guaranteed hung-parliament, which make this wafer-thin government majority look unfathomably spectacular just at this moment in time.

It is perhaps the fragility of the situation that has encouraged both the direct and indirect flurry of messages and policy announcements which have began to emanate from Downing Street at what seems like a hell’s pace.

Indeed, this Conservative Government looks set to push through as many big policy moves as it can within the shortest time possible, all before the illusion subsides and the true vulnerability of its situation is fully exposed by perhaps a few of the new Conservative MP’s finding their own voices, or a few more of those historical ‘bastards’ coming back into the open after biding their time during this illusory feel-good moment.

Rushed as they may seem, it’s not the obvious sound bites that come from the new ministerial post holders that should be causing us the most concern – even though some of those could have profound enough implications on their own.

No, it is the latest soundings by the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, indicating that a referendum on Europe should be held as early as possible, that give the greatest signal yet that just this one monumental process will be pushed through by the Government, before any real traction can be gained by a cross-party No Campaign.

On the face of it, Cameron cannot lose. Whilst the Conservatives will be able to paint themselves as decisive and promote what will be sold as a very big win, The other main Parties are successfully on target to be caught napping during their drawn out and self-focused leadership campaigns.

Indeed, Labour and the Lib Dems are in as much danger of allowing incompetently created constitutional policy to slip under the radar without any form of genuine opposition scrutiny, as UKIP is of missing its real hour of glory whilst it busily engages itself in a form of open warfare which is in danger of doing little more than showing how accurately similar the Party is to everyone else on the political block.

Europe, just like Scotland and the whole issue of devolved government, is far too big a question for all of us across the UK – with implications that are far-too-reaching, to be left to the machinations of political opportunism which has ironically been gifted to the Conservative Government by little more than a series of blunders.

Getting the relationship that we have with Europe right is essential. On one side, we must reclaim the levels of political and legislatory influence which our sovereign state should always have maintained and that we should experience as we ask the question about who is really in control.

But on the other, we also need to maintain a healthy relationship with a range of trading partners who probably have more to lose if we don’t get our relationship right than we do – a point that weak leadership will always willingly miss.

The UK may well be in a much better position for negotiation than politicians and the media would have us believe, but we will not achieve anything near what is the best arrangement for this Country if our direction of travel is left to the momentum of a political philosophy that even grassroots members of its own party cannot recognise, and which has to rely on the power of fear to manipulate the election results that have supported it.

On the 7th of May, none of the political parties lost anything in comparison to what the British public will lose if the critical moments which are going to come over the next few months are left to chance and go unchecked.

Whether its Liz, Andy, Mary, Yvette, Tim, Norman, Patrick or Suzanne who are considering their moment of glory, the big thing to do would be to focus on the challenges which the Country is facing, rather than continue to indulge and propagate everything that is wrong with our political system.

Image top; thanks to http://www.theguardian.com, below: unknown

Televised Debates for the 2015 General Election: Shouldn’t we hear from all those who could have power after 7th May, rather than just those who have won an Election before?

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

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Just a week ago, the odds on Ofcom giving David Cameron an excuse not to enter the pre-General Election TV debates may well have looked pretty remote. Seven days on; one pull of the Green flush in the rules-room of the communications regulator and to some people, that is exactly what seems to have happened.

But however hard the PM might argue the moral justification of his apparent support for the Greens, few are buying into the apparent magnanimity of this gesture, even if for other reasons, he may unwittingly have a significant point.

The reasoning behind the decision to preclude the Greens and the smaller Parties has been based upon polling and previous electoral performance. It is a decision that would work favourably well if we were all looking to maintain the status quo, and only concentrate on the ‘establishment’, which itself now apparently includes UKIP, a Party that will arguably be assisted in fighting this Parliamentary Election on the basis of their electoral successes in Europe alone.

Polling does indeed seem to have become a science and dismissing this branch of statistics and the benefits of its use would be foolish however you might feel about it. However, polling is based upon people’s responses to questions regarding information that those people have about a situation, circumstances or what they are experiencing at that exact moment in time. It is little more than a snapshot and not one which can accurately predict how those same people would behave or react if they are given what they genuinely consider to be different options, or they find themselves having had an experience following the poll which would change their mind about the choices that they have.

All well and good if you are a ‘national-election-winning’ political party. But we are reaching the end of a 5 year Coalition Government, which came into being simply because none of the Parties running in 2010 with a chance of winning offered a platform which gained a decisive response from the public.

So when polling itself suggests that we are on course for the same, or perhaps an even greater dispersal of Parliamentary Seats amongst Parties, should it only be those same Parties, that by default then become the predominant members of the planned political telethon which could well influence the outcomes for our future?

The elephant in the room that political expedience fails to recognise was that in 2010, people didn’t feel convinced by the choices that they had. Voters didn’t anticipate a ‘hung parliament’ and very few would have been hoping for the final outcome, even if those who follow politics more closely will have seriously considered its probability as an outcome.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats paint this as being a choice, the unintended selection of indecisive Government burdened by compromise, arguably just because it suits the interests of the Political Parties who have most to gain, doesn’t really reflect upon putting the best interests of the Voting Electorate first.

Further compounding the ineptness and arguably self-serving nature of the decision by then introducing minimum 5 year Parliamentary Terms has not exactly given anybody else the feeling of legitimacy that was obviously intended either.

People want change. Voters want choice. The Electorate wants to see and understand the differences between ALL of the choices that are on offer.

With this in mind, it would perhaps be the case that the fairest way to select candidates for a televised debate would be to wait and see how many candidates have been accepted to represent each Party within Constituencies, and then in turn whether the number seeking election could form a majority Government if they were all elected.

In 1992, the Natural Law Party gained national exposure by fielding enough candidates across the Country to trigger access to Election Broadcasts. Yogic Flying may well have added an element of intrigue for some and outright comedy for others. But it certainly gave a televised forum to a Party that at the time could have painted a very different picture of Nineties Britain if they had collectively been elected to a position where they either held, or could influence power.

It’s a bit of a stretch in terms of what we might consider a likely outcome to view small Parties as contenders to form a majority Government on May 8th. But on the other side of this two-edged electoral sword, UKIP were of course never supposed to have won 2 Seats last Autumn, and the numerical requirement to get David Cameron or Labour‘s Ed Milliband in to No. 10 could turn out to be a lot less than the 57 Seats that the Lib Dems added to the Conservatives biggest-party-with minority-status last time around.

The truth of the peculiar political reality which may follow this General Election is more likely to rest in the hands of Nigel Farage (UKIP), Alex Salmond (SNP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Natalie Bennett (The Greens) or perhaps even them all, than it is with the existing mainstream Parties who are not even trying to sound different in the way that some of their smaller competitors certainly are.

On this basis alone, and knowing the havoc that could be inflicted by the trade-offs that might include a black and white, in-out referendum on Europe; greater steps towards the independence of Scotland, or even the scrapping of the Nuclear Deterrent at a time when World stability is far from secure, should we not really have the opportunity to listen to what the potential kingmakers really have to say?

image: theguardian.com

 

Bankrupt Britain: We’re off to hell in a handcart and the best that MP’s can do is fake questions in Parliament to keep their dinner chums happy…

November 30, 2014 Leave a comment
Penny Mordaunt preparing to make a Splash when she was actually worried about what people would think...

Penny Mordaunt preparing to make a Splash when she was actually worried about what people would think…

Immigration has been the big leader this week, and with David Cameron dubiously going to ask Foreign powers for permission to change our own Laws to protect our own Country, it has come as little surprise that George Osborne has jumped in with a £2 Billion lump of cash to sure up the Conservatives dwindling election prospects whilst dressing it up as all about securing the NHS.

The problem is that in its current form, the NHS is as unaffordable as most of our Public Services.

The Government know this and have already scheduled more cuts for the future which without any kind of meaningful top-to-bottom reform of all parts of Government and the NGO’s will inevitably lead to either the reduction or end of services that we should all safely be able to take for granted.

How the Chancellor can suddenly find £2 Billion on the basis that the Economy is doing well, whilst he neglects to mention the still significant Deficit that we have for so long been promised would be zeroed, along with the National Debt that no Westminster Politician seems even capable of talking about, simply beggars belief.

Nobody wants the NHS to fail. But it is because no Government past or present has even attempted to tackle the cultural and institutional problems which it is facing without reverting to putting a price tag on it, that throwing money at NHS seems to be the only way that the problem can be solved.

With the Country effectively bankrupt already and only able to function because successive Governments keep creating debt during their ‘today’ for someone else to pay off at our cost ‘tomorrow’, we could be forgiven for hoping that our up and coming MP’s would be taking the job seriously enough to have already began chipping away at the system and the policies which are serving us all so badly.

But when one such aspiring MP takes their use of Parliamentary time so seriously that they use it for little more reason that to meet the terms of a bet laid down by friends over dinner – and is then happy to tell the world that they have done it, what hope for the future is there for all the people that they are actually supposed to represent?

image: metro.co.uk

See Adam’s November 2014 Blog on the NHS

See Adam’s July 2013 Blog on the NHS

Britain’s Political Crisis: Politicians should remember that glory is little more than a temporary illusion which benefits no-one in the long term. It should be just the happy consequence that it is, rather than the reason for being and doing itself…

November 7, 2014 Leave a comment

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If you could speak to any of today’s MP’s, back before they entered politics, and asked them why they got involved, would most of them honestly tell you that it was because they wanted to be an MP, or because they wanted to make a difference?

Sadly, we all probably know the answer to this question very well. In it lies much of the truth behind not only the problems that this Country now faces, but also the uncomfortable reality that sits behind Westminster’s façade. The British political establishment is morally inept, and there is nobody offering anything even remotely like the leadership that the Country needs in order to bring balance and to deliver a system of Government which genuinely is fair and fitting for all.

People are awakening to the complexities of our political system, albeit for many, they are simply on the receiving end or rather the effects of a comprehensive range of policies that have usually been cobbled together for no better reason than that of political expedience, usually because their precursor was failing to work just the same.

It was once said that the simplest solutions are the most intelligent. Indeed one of the most pertinent and indeed relevant quotes which relates to the way that Government operates would be Albert Einstein, when he said ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.

Some may question the validity of quotations from a world renowned scientist. But Government is and has been run by generations of politicians who are doing little more than testing out theories and face-saving solutions on an electorate that they have arguably treated little better than lab rats or guinea pigs.

People across the demographical boundaries of British society feel that this is exactly how they have and are being treated, and the reality is that political philosophy and the other tools used to progress the interests of one group of people over another, continually fails to deliver anything balanced, or which does not have negative implications for somebody, somewhere else.

We live in times when the disparity between the lifestyles of those on low incomes and those who might be considered to be financially rich, are almost permanently in the media spotlight, encouraging feelings of distance and difference which would probably best be summed up in the sense of the ‘them and us’ cultures you often find present between the tiers of managers and staff within different organisations.

But rather than seek and use the many opportunities available to work with the reality that perception is everything, a seemingly continual flow of politicians gain elevation to their seats and immediately forget that they were elected to be the channels of communication and influence on behalf of the areas they represent.

Often by default, they then become the slaves and ‘yes men’ to someone else’s set of political ideals – all of which usually represent very little that we would recognise as being akin to a way of working and the delivery of solutions which consider the implications and impact upon us all.

Those who have direct experience of operating within the political world will know only too well that democracy today only works for those who are in charge.

Hearing other politicians agree with what you say when you speak out and say something is wrong, is often followed by the contrary and white flagged acknowledgement that ‘you can’t change it as this is just the way things are’. This kind of statement certainly shouldn’t resonate with anyone who entered politics because they genuinely believe in delivering something better for all. However, the fact that so many MP’s are still seen to be sticking with the status quo says much about their motivations for being there.

Whilst change has to start somewhere and many will admire Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless for the steps they have taken, UKIP is so far untested beyond its ability to win by-elections for Westminster and seats within a European Institution which other than being little more than the glorified committee stage of a bureaucratic law making machine, would itself fail to exist for them if they were to ultimately achieve their publicised aims.

At a time when the UK is effectively bankrupt, cuts and economies are being ineptly focused upon the bottom line of expenditure, rather than the transformation and institutional change which would help us ensure the future of services such as the NHS, those provided by local government and many not-for-profit organisations, rather than on the continually increasing risk which will come to us all as a result of their destruction. We desperately need a new start in politics which reflects the responsibility to the public that politicians have, rather than the retention of their seats at the next election which they want.

Cynical as it may sound, we are now experiencing a form of government which begins its next election campaign the very next day after the votes were counted from the last, and you may well wonder what would have happened to us all since May 2010 if the modus operandi of having a whole 5 years to get reelected had been replaced with the battle cry ‘we have only 5 years to get something done’.

The argument and justification for change becomes flawed when personalities are brought into the mix, and however we might feel about the personal ideologies or backgrounds of David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage or anyone else who is in the political sphere, to simply concentrate on ‘playing the man, rather than the ball’ just takes us straight back into the problem that all of them – together – are continuing to create and maintain.

Likewise, jumping on the bandwagon of anarchy, propagated by probably well-meaning public figures like Russell Brand, will also yield very little long-term fruit for a population which is desperate for wholesale change for the better.

Change of the kind that will serve us all well can only come from transformation of the system that we already have.

Destruction of that system – however unfair it might seem to be right now – would lead to a level of uncertainty which would leave people grappling for any alternative which would quickly answer the many questions that widespread lawlessness would almost certainly bring.

If you need to gain some kind of perspective on this, it might be worth considering the situation in Syria and North Iraq which precipitated the arrival of Islamic State – the true impact of which we still as yet do not know.

Everything we do is now based upon mitigating the existence of fear. The most public and consequential proponents of this are the political classes themselves and until they all – as individuals – begin to acknowledge the personal fears that they have, and then rise above them and embrace the level of responsibility they have to us all; work with the risks, and then make decisions that are truly in the best interests of all, nothing is going to change.

Political parties offer a refuge for those who feel they have no choice but to work with others just to get things done. But political parties are now one of the biggest elements of the problem itself and political philosophies are little more than a trap for those who do not have faith in anyone’s ideas, other than their own.

Whoever you vote for in 2015, without change on the level that politicians all now need to embrace, we are simply heading for a lot more of the same, and probably in way which will be far worse and more painful than anything we have witnessed or experienced before.

Thinking about others and how our actions will impact upon them isn’t just some kind of selfless sport or charitable notion for those who have spare time and money on their hands. By considering others, we ultimately consider ourselves.

Politicians on all sides and at all levels would do well to bear this in mind and remember that by concentrating on the real issues that face them today, the electoral results for tomorrow will in turn take care of themselves.

Glory is little more than a temporary illusion which benefits no-one in the long term. It should be just the happy consequence that it is, rather than the reason for being and doing itself.

 

image: wonderfulengineering.com

Flooding: It’s wet, getting wetter and the funds are drying up. Government Reform and Policy change is the only way to get all the protection that we need and that process must start now

February 10, 2014 1 comment

Flooding and the affects that it can have on all of us has been a consistent theme since the very beginning of my time as a local Councillor near Tewkesbury.

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering bottled water across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured here in Pamington delivering to the service point set up by then County Councillor Gordon Shurmer

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering drinking water supplies across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured in Pamington unloading at a service point set up by then County Cllr Gordon Shurmer

If you come from outside the immediate area, memories of the summer of 2007 and the notoriety of the July ‘Floods’ in Gloucestershire tend to focus attention more on the water shortages that hit the County for those who still remember, rather than the significant and extremely rapid flooding event responsible which took place in just one day on Friday 20th July 2007.

In less than 48 hours, the life that we all so easily take for granted was compromised. Not because of a war, famine or catastrophic crash of our economy, but because the drinking water in our taps was literally switched off when flood water polluted the tanks at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant near Tewkesbury. These floods suddenly affected everyone, and not just those who had been flooded out; many of whom were themselves within whole neighbourhoods where river torrents coming through your home would normally be the very last thing on your mind on a midsummer day.

The complacency and complete lack of urgency demonstrated by officials that follows an event of this magnitude when life is perceived to be ‘back to normal’ is a strange thing to deal with if you have had firsthand experience of it. But this is exactly what people in Tewkesbury and the surrounding Villages have had to frustratingly deal with ever since and what the people of the Somerset Levels have clearly had to endure now too.

Sadly, Towns, Villages, Hamlets, Communities and Businesses simply at risk of flooding don’t have the newsworthiness of water in the way it does when it literally covers the ground. This is a real problem for anyone living with the realities of these events as news teams seldom camp out for anything good. Most people would much prefer not to have the camera crews taking up semi-permanent residence ever again to report such stories. But it seems that it will take exactly that to happen before any sense of urgency to deal with existing and weather-changing threats or those that Developers may indeed be creating, will be adequately addressed.

Taking nothing away from the many people who spent up to a year living in caravans on their driveways after the 2007 pluvial ‘event’ who now also have insurance ‘blight’ as a result, some areas around Tewkesbury and Gloucester such as the historic Village of Walton Cardiff in the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward that I represent regularly have to face the prospect of river or fluvial flooding too.

Residents there have sadly come to be so used to it, that one homeowner with the means to do so has even bought an amphibious buggy which he uses to help other Residents when the roads become impassable. Whilst community-minded in the extreme, I will probably be far from alone in having concerns that such acts are taken by Government Politicians to mean that there is a general acceptance on the part of those living with the risk of flooding that they are simply happy with the status quo. Let me tell you; they aren’t.

The constant threat of both types of flooding is never far from the minds of those whose homes are at risk of either the flooding that it is ‘reasonable’ to expect, or that which ‘normal’ disaster planning doesn’t allow for that comes in the form of events that the Environment Agency and other Organisations communicate in terms such as ‘a one in a hundred year event’.

The problem is that the Floods in question aren’t only happening once every one hundred years or whatever the particular ‘banding’ may be and the type of lottery derived statistics that are being used as this benchmark for support to our communities is now proving to be a form of gamble that’s only paying off for those who are most distant from the problem.

There are actually some very painful realities sitting behind the lack of support for our communities. Getting the results that we all need relies on a significant number of issues needing to be addressed and whilst I have no intention of dismissing the action that the Prime Minister and Eric Pickles are now reactively taking to the Somerset problems in particular, it is only by dealing with all the problems comprehensively – and accepting that matters which on the face of it have little to do with Flooding also have an effect – that there will ever be any genuine first and meaningful steps to dealing with this situation in its truest depth.

The interactive nature of these contributory issues with other seemingly non-related Policies make statements like that made by the the Environment Agency Head Lord Smith last week potentially misleading. Suggesting that there may be a hard choice to be made over whether we protect Towns and Cities or Rural Areas is arguably very subjective indeed. Whilst in the sense of funding for defence and maintenance work accurate, a statement like this doesn’t take into consideration the other contributory issues that come with it. The issues include:

Funding

In isolation, we can all easily draw the conclusion that solving Flood Defence problems is just about the money that Local Authorities, Central Government Departments and Non Government Organisations such as the Environment Agency have to spend. But it isn’t.

Essentially any work that is undertaken does have to be paid for by the public purse as Flood Prevention is fundamentally in the public interest. However, the days when such an issue in itself was enough to trigger an immediate and responsive spend on a ‘size doesn’t matter’ basis has long gone – if it ever actually existed before in anything other than wartime.

The problem for us today is that the Country is now effectively bankrupt after generations of profligate spending by Government on Policies which are considered populist only in the sense of the number of votes that they will win. They should have been in the best interests of the wider community – which is arguably how every political decision should actually be made.

Budgets are and will most likely continue to be cut from all Publicly Funded Organisations and will continue to do so whilst the gargantuan plate-spinning effort to keep the Economy and Public Spending from smashing on the floor continues. Lack of discussion and reference to the National Debt, whilst overplay on the prospect of reaching a zero Deficit in maybe a few years time is a key indicator of the high stakes game that is already well in play. Any upward change in spending that might come from a change in Government could actually bring matters to a conclusion even sooner.

The £100 Million promised just to the Somerset Levels alone this week might sound like a lot of money to those struggling to survive on an average wage. But in real terms and without any unfortunate pun intended, it is in reality a mere drop in the ocean of the fund that would actually be needed to cover the cost of protecting the UK against Flooding if no other options were to be genuinely considered.

Painful as it is to accept, the fact is that without significant change in the way that all parts of Government raise and spend money, there will never be anywhere near enough funds to address the Flooding problems with a cash only solution and Government really needs to start being straight with people about this.

Planning

Prevention is almost certainly better than waiting to work on a cure. Whilst many people who have experience of a Flood Event will already have significant anecdotal evidence to illustrate how building on flood plains has exacerbated the problems that we already face, it is the Planning Policies and Procedures which exist today that provide part of the greatest threat to both individual properties and whole communities.

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

Unloading bottled drinking water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

A good example is that Planning Policy arguably only takes fluvial flooding into account, the effects of which themselves can open to the bizarrest forms of interpretation possible. A case which demonstrates this well would be the Wheatpieces Development within my Ward, some of which is well known locally to have been built on what was mapped historically as flood plain. However, I understand that it is not considered to be as such for Planning purposes by the Environment Agency – and therefore Planners – because the houses built on these areas were erected on built up land or infill which when the earthworks were completed then complied with the requirement of being the required ground level height above Ordnance Datum Newlyn, which I also understand was at the time of Permission being granted, some 12 Feet.

Such an undertaking is for current Planning purposes apparently enough to quantify that a development has not been constructed on Floodplain, but then gives sparse consideration for the knock on effects that creating an island in the middle of natures own flood remedy will have had on properties that would otherwise have been at significantly less risk of flooding. Build as many reed beds and flood tanks under a new development as you like, but when storms of the nature we are now experiencing come in the increasingly menacing way that they do, such developments can be akin to dropping a breeze block into an overflowing bath.

Some will call it cynical to say this, but evidence strongly suggests that the deficiencies in Planning Policy today leave existing homes and developments open to threat from the increased risk of flooding which is created by new developments – the properties upon which are unlikely to face the same threat. Couple this with the headlong rush by successive governments to build houses as the silver bullet to solve all ills, and you might begin to realise the level of threat that a Planning Policy which does not consider the whole picture has actually become. Planning Policy isn’t actually working in the best interests of anybody other than the Politicians, builders and companies that lend people the money to buy the new houses.

The irresponsibility of the Government and Opposition in hanging the fate of the Economy and those desperate for affordable homes on house building is not only fueling the growth of an already uncontrollable credit bubble; it is also determining a fate of misery and loss to the owners and occupants for many existing homes who will almost certainly be put at greater risk of flooding.

The role of ‘Respondents’ of the Planning Process

Symptomatic of our correctness culture has been the exponential rise of the Quango and distribution of powers to what are non-elected Bodies, some of whom don’t even report to Government Ministers. A number of these are involved in both the Planning system as ‘Respondents’, but also within the other processes which relate to Flood Prevention.

A great weight of responsibility has been given to many of these Organisations and their opinion, view or interpretation of their Policy in relation to specific cases and subsequently are seen to have what can sometimes feel like limitless power to those who have witnessed it.

Alone, their objections can halt an application on the spot, whilst the absence of an objection from any such Respondent can and does lead Members of Planning Committees to conclude that objecting to an application is little more than a futile act, as with these agencies not objecting, a Planning Inspector will surely approve it should the Application then go to Appeal.

With all working to very centralised; one-size-fits-all Policies which are without any real consideration for the very localised issues that the Planning System does encounter and specifically Flooding issues, the realities of the influence that these bureaucratic entities have is significant. Developers know that if they table Applications that effectively tick all the boxes that each of these Organisations have on their checklists, Local Authority Planning Committees simply won’t have a prayer if a developer then takes a rejection to Appeal  – which they rarely have hesitation in doing so.

The influence that these Organisations have over the Planning Process is simply too much and is at best an arbitrary way of dealing with what are ever increasingly sensitive issues that require a level of interpretation, consideration and understanding which genuinely reflects locality and the concept of Localism that the Coalition Government has done so much to sell itself upon.

Maintenance – when money isn’t a problem

The Environment Agency once again plays a critical role in the preventative maintenance which is already or should already be undertaken on watercourses and rivers, as do Local Borough, District, County and Unitary Authorities that have Drainage responsibilities.

The often complex relationships or rather chain of decision making that arises as a result of multiple organisations or ‘stakeholders’ being involved in a decision relating to Flood Prevention will almost always cause delays, or worse still, like the Planning Process, will result in one of them being perceived to carry more weight, and for the buck to effectively stop with them. In a compensation and blame culture, taking action actually appears to be the very last thing on the mind of the Representatives of these Organisations, and this can serve no purpose other than their own.

Sadly I do not recall one conversation with Residents or indeed other Politicians which has reflected positively upon the work of the Environment Agency. I have spoken to Farmers who have watercourses and rivers crossing their properties and most look back comparatively fondly on one of the forerunners of the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority (NRA) which is remembered for a much more proactive, less obstructive and therefore constructive approach to clearance and dredging.

I can remember seeing specially modified tractors working the banks of the contributory rivers to the Severn during the period of the NRA’s tenure and it is clear that anecdotal evidence of the benefit of such work correlates well with a period when fluvial flooding seemed to affect a whole lot less of the area.

The NRA itself adopted the responsibilities which were once included within the portfolio of the ten former Regional Water Authorities with what we now know to be this expensive, but critical form of work not being adopted by the privatised Water Companies. One could easily conclude that the formation of the Environment Agency and absorption of the NRA within it in 1996 was seen as the ideal time to cut back on proactive and costly Flood Prevention works and that this may have been considered a much safer time to do so rather than the late Eighties when Privatisation itself took place.

I will add that one of my own experiences of questioning an Environment Agency Representative during a post-flood seminar held at Tewkesbury Abbey in the weeks following the 2007 Flood, I can honestly say that I found the responses given to my questions on dredging and clearance to be conflicting. I walked away with the distinct impression that giving excuses rather than any meaningful response was the chosen modus operandi  of this Organisation – even when they might have honestly said  ‘there isn’t the money available’.

Distance and lack of situational objectivity on the part of decision makers

Flooding is an issue that is simply not recognised for the problem that it is right now, has been and will be by Government and the Staff of the Organisations that matter. People making  decisions do not have the first hand knowledge or exposure not only to the Flood incidents themselves, but to what can be the very localised nature of the contributory factors as they exist today and how they may come into play as the result of apparently unleashed development.

Officers of all the Organisations discussed who may be rightly and properly qualified to be called experts arguably don’t use their expertise in the way that the public should rightly expect. Tick box decision making appears to have replaced that of using common sense and recognising the need to seek the fullest perspective, arguably for little more reason than the threat which comes from taking responsibility within the protectionist culture which is now an inherent part of Government Administration.

The earlier system of buck-passing which grew decision making into a very expensive system of ‘one-job, one-role; keep passing it on until we can justify engaging a consultant’, has systematically inflated the size of ‘back room operations’, and taken money that was available away from frontline service delivery, where ironically as a result, the need for even more precise and robust decision making becomes ever more critical. We can all see the results.

The Weather

There is no question that weather patterns are changing. We don’t however know if this is due to a phenomenon like global warming, or whether it is actually part of very extensive climate changing cycles which have affected the earth historically, and which there is evidence to suggest might be the case.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that Government and the Organisations involved have not developed a proactive bias to Flood Prevention measures and that the approach taken is far more reactive in nature. It is what could easily be called ‘out of site; out of mind’ management, as work only seems to be concentrated on issues which are in the Public view – or can be guaranteed to be regularly so.

Many will probably be quietly asking whether the ‘intensity’ of effort now focussing on Somerset will for instance continue once the roads are passable and life is deemed to have returned to ‘normal’.

These are apparently ‘irregular’ events after all. But it was indeed telling that the Military first arrived in the form of just two Personnel who apparently decided that there was nothing at that point which they could do. Given that much of the amphibious and landing–type craft which could at very least help these stranded Communities are likely to be based with Royal Marine and Royal Naval Units in the South and South West anyway, should it really have been that difficult to put some of these vehicles on low-loading lorries and get them to the Levels within a few hours? 

Either way, attitudes must change even if the funds are limited. Government has been entrusted with great power on our behalf along with the responsibility to use it. So why aren’t they?

The painful reality is that there are likely to be other contributory factors that I and certainly others are not aware of, but which are important all the same.

Money is the overriding factor which has, is and will continue to inhibit the development of capital flood defence projects whether they are inland, riverside or on the coast and there is a danger that neither the realistic sums which could be raised for these projects, nor the changes in the many other policy areas that could positively assist will come into being unless there is a complete change in the way that Politicians assess, develop and then act upon their priorities.

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to www.theguardian.com

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

As we have seen in Tewkesbury with the effect on water supply; in Devon with the effect on Railways and in Somerset with the effect upon land and roads; doing nothing places critical Infrastructure at risk. So funnelling truckloads of borrowed cash into any service or benefit that will put around 350 MP’s or more in power for the next five years when all they will then do is think about doing the same again – all to the incalculable cost of the majority of Taxpayers – can simply no longer be sustained.

With money being the problem that the Government doesn’t want to talk about, it is unlikely that any Minister will stand up any time soon and simply say ‘we don’t have the money to do all the work that needs doing’. Even less likely would be finding one of them saying and actually meaning ‘we don’t have all the money, but we will make all the changes that we possibly can which will serve all of your interests’ best’.

When these Politicians have moved past the sound bites, the portrayals of being belated men of action and giving hollow apologies when pinned down by interviewers, the best advice any Politician could now take would be to stop treating the Electorate like they are idiots and that the issues facing Government are beyond their understanding.

Good communication crosses all barriers and honesty coupled with the emotional intelligence that can only be utilised by those who are fully ‘in touch’ with issues will surely build the foundations of a wholly different kind of support. They might start by:

Listening Locally

It will be in everyone’s interests to develop a culture where local voices are heard even when they don’t have the profile of people like Michael Eavis, the founder of the Glastonbury Festival who wrote a very useful and telling article in the Mail on Sunday on 2nd February 2014.

Mr Eavis brought precisely the kind of invaluable and historical knowledge of the Somerset Levels to the table that no doubt many people could, if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Too much useful information is discounted because of the emotional buy-in that often accompanies very local issues and which is often badged as being Nimby-ism. Yes, there are people who will say no to everything simply because they don’t want change or others who make demands simply because they want something for themselves. But applying this very negative and destructive view on anyone who is promoting a local view, without taking adequate steps to discern the value from what they may be saying, is ultimately selling everyone short and is far from the hallmark of a fully enlightened form of Politics.

Reforming the Planning System and creating Local Planning Courts to make Localism really mean something and empower local people in the process

In the absence of the money that we need being available without either borrowing or taking money from services which may actually be invaluable elsewhere, Planning and its reform will be a key factor in proactively addressing future Flood Events.

Power of veto – whether negative or indeed positive, should never be held in the hands of unelected bureaucrats or people who are neither trained nor prepared to make decisions which truly reflect the very localised and area specific issues which relate to flooding.

We must move away from tick-box decision making which brings little more than the one-size-fits-all mentality to almost every Planning Application that will have an affect on the wider community and particularly so when it comes to Flooding.

Agencies and Local Authorities should inform, but ultimately not define the planning process and the only eventuality in which Government Ministers should intervene should be at moments when the genuine National interest overrides that of the local community and those who will be directly impacted by developments within it.

This could be done by transferring all Planning Decisions to a local ‘Planning Court’, in which evidence could be given by the Applicants, all respondents and interested parties to a Judge or panel, but where the power of appeal is limited to the same or a similarly localised Court, and where the Policies upon which decisions are based are those developed democratically by the Local Council’s themselves.

Such a process would be much more tailored to localised needs and allow and encourage Agencies to advise rather than administer, and leave people feeling much more empowered when it comes to their fate. It would also give the opportunity to consider new forms of information that come available through advances in technology and understanding, such as up-to-date computerised flood or water behaviour mapping, which would allow considerations to be made for issues such as pluvial flooding, which is likely to become ever relevant.

Central Government would have its role to play in assisting this by changing all appropriate Policies to reflect a genuine need-led, rather than projected development requirement and bringing into being all forms of legislation to prevent economic reliance and profiteering from building developments and multiple property ownership which skews the market.

Moving responsibility for Preventative Maintenance back to the Water Companies

It seems incredible that dredging and maintenance didn’t remain the responsibility of the Water Companies after Privatisation, but now makes a great deal more sense as we begin to gain a better understanding of the true costs involved and the resistance of any private company to undertake work which may be in the public interest, but which itself is distinctly non-profitable in nature.

The Water Companies gain significant benefit from the use of rivers and watercourses both as a source of water and as a route of discharge for treated effluent which no longer has value in its current form. These Companies could once again be harnessed with the responsibility for all the services that they once were before Privatisation and thereby take a more commercial approach to long term flooding defence and maintenance provision, which it would seem most natural for them to do so.

With successive Governments already responsible for failing to adequately regulate the profiteering nature of these Companies, the risk that the transfer of this responsibility would be seen as just another opportunity to raise fees would be real. As such, this would be another vital area where Government would have policy making work to do, but where the blood and guts approach of a return to real conviction and end-user focus politics could really make a profound difference in future flooding risk, whilst also dealing with key components of the real cost of living crisis.

Government Reform to facilitate the Funding that can come from no other source

Ultimately, only significant capital spending of a level which the Country currently cannot afford would provide the sea defences, river defences and perhaps even dykes of the kind seen in the Netherlands that the UK may now actually need to protect against and limit existing threats that exist right now. And there is of course the requirement to ‘future-proof’ or to then prevent against the impact and escalation which comes from the changes in weather patterns.

The money to do this will never be available whilst Government spending continues on the levels based only upon election-focussed service provision and a benefits system which propagates legitimate abuse. The services which attract most public money are themselves at risk from the same black financial cloud hovering above us, but could be run far more cost effectively – and arguably at lower cost – with the kind of holistic, joined-up and end-user focus reform that so many services provided by Government now need. Public servants must be encouraged to move away from the ‘what’s will be the benefit or risk to me’ culture and start focussing on a ‘how we can do the best possible for Taxpayers’ culture instead.

Sticking plaster solutions are no answer either to Flooding issues or to the many other problems which the Government faces. Parliamentarians seem so unwilling to tackle complex policy making and reform for the greater good and meanwhile, almost everyone else suffers.

Getting to the place where communities need to be; a place where they feel safe, protected and able to maintain a basic standard of living that doesn’t require lending money or a compromise of the services that they should be able to expect is a long and tough journey.  People must again be trusted locally by Parliamentarians and empowered to deal with the matters which relate only to their own fate, without centralised Policy or non-elected bureaucrats being able to override them.

A Coalition Government will never be equipped to even begin taking the steps which will be necessary to achieve this because they are by their very nature a relationship built upon compromise. You will never get the very best solution for all when a compromise has been necessary.

We can only hope that the next Government will take their responsibilities to all of us far more seriously. But with things looking as they are, it may not happen next time either.

See Adam’s related Blogs on:

Flooding

Dealing with the Energy Companies

Why the Political focus on house building is wrong

The Real Cost of Living Crisis

The influence of Utility Providers on the cost of living

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