Our politicians are impotent in the face of events they cannot control

by Kevin Meagher

It must feel like Groundhog Day in Whitehall. Ministers are now obliged to pay homage to the residents of Somerset on a daily basis. So they come, all wellies and wax jackets, with suitably solemn faces for the now perfunctory photo opportunity.

There they stand, knee deep in stagnant water, to receive their ritual ear-bashing from angry flood victims, unable to offer any reassurances about when normality will resume or even give a guarantee that the same thing will not happen again. As David Cameron put it at his press conference yesterday, these are the worst floods in that part of the country for 250 years. Translation: ‘I’m at the mercy of events, what can I be expected to do?’

But at least David Cameron can venture out to the flooded south-west of England. He dared not visit Scotland to deliver a keynote speech making the case for the Union last Friday, such is the toxicity of the Conservative brand north of the border. Instead, the Prime Minister delivered his call to “save the most extraordinary country in history” from the velodrome of the Olympic Park in London. A place, then, where people whizz round and round but don’t actually get anywhere.

Apt, perhaps, given the impotence of our politicians this week.

Despite their Canute-like assurances, even small changes in our climate pattern quickly overpower both our flood defences – and ministers’ good intentions. Adapting our infrastructure to meet this challenge is horrendously costly, which is why it has never been adequately done.

Yet David Cameron casually pledges that extra money to prevent future flooding will be “no object,” seemingly unaware that the unwritten rule of public spending is that to reap a political return, investment must build visible assets: schools, hospitals, even roads. There are few votes to be had investing in invisible assets: drainage systems and underground storm water tanks.

We also see this political impotence in the decision of Parliament to outlaw smoking in a car when children are present. As I argued yesterday, the proposal is hopelessly unenforceable, not to mention deeply illiberal; but our politicians, desperate for any vestige of control over the agenda, jump at a chance to show us they are decisive and in charge.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond is itching at the prospect of going head-to-head with Cameron, knowing that every time he opens his mouth, the Prime Minister’s plummy English accent drives voters into the independence camp. The case for the Union cannot be put with any effect from the party that professes greatest attachment to it. Despite having half the seats in Scotland in the 1950s, there is now just a single Conservative MP from a total of 56 Scottish seats.

Meanwhile, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats clump together to rule out a currency union with an independent Scotland. Salmond must be have been chortling over his porridge this morning at the site of his political opponents bandying together, desperate for a single killer argument that can knock him for six.

Would it not be better for the three main parties to accept that an independent Scotland is not the end of the world and cataclysmic predictions that it is simply makes the No campaign seem shrill and extreme? Alex Salmond’s open, optimistic face is a more than an effective response. A reasoned, positive discussion on the merits of the union might convince the large number of floating voters to opt for the devil they know.

Again, would it not have been more effective for ministers to have admitted weeks ago that they had got it wrong on flooding? That the emergency response has been slow and piecemeal and we are reaping the costs of years of building on flood plains and rapacious agricultural practices that have diminished the ability of the land to cope with the weather patterns we are now seeing.

The public isn’t listening; either in Somerset or Edinburgh, that much is clear. Our politicians are no longer in control of key events and seem powerless to convince sceptical voters that they have the answers. Yet they remain defiant, rather than contrite, in the face of their impotence.

At this rate, next week’s rota of ministers will need chest waders.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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10 Responses to “Our politicians are impotent in the face of events they cannot control”

  1. Rallan says:

    Our cynical, self-serving short-termist politicians have increased the role of the state beyond anything rational. For decades they’ve been outbidding each other with ever more unrealistic promises and massive state engorgement. They don’t care about the future of this country.

    It can’t go on. The political parties simply cannot meet the expectations they’ve built. State pensions are undeliverable, the NHS is unsustainable, mass immigration is overwhelming. Within a generation the wheels are going to come off the whole bankrupt impossible establishment mess.

  2. Tafia says:

    See Ed was out and about spouting nonsense again today. Where are his advisors? Does he not pay any attention to them? He sounds more and more weird every time he speaks. What he says makes no sense, is entirely empty of anything firm and yet again he was banging on about families “Families shouldn’t pay for sandbags” , So childless couples and singles should then? Nearly everyone I know is heartily sick of him banging on about families and ignoring singles and couples.

    He seems to have no grand announcements, no firm policy over anything and very little to say that actually means anything. No idea and no answers.

  3. swatantra says:

    very true.

  4. Ex-labour says:


    So true. Miliband is an empty vessel and the real danger for Labour is that when the GE campaign starts in earnest the public will see more and more of this vacuous vessel and his weirdness. That will be a major factor in the GE because politicians like to say it’s all about policy, but the truth is the public often vote for who they like, rather than anything of substance. Miliband is quickly taking over Browns mantel as a swivel eyed loon.

    As for the floods, it of course flies in the face of the Eco loon predictions. As one who works in the energy industry we see everyday the result of the green agenda on the performance of our energy networks. New evidence coming forward regarding climate change particularly in the area of climate sensitivity, says that the models used to predict climate and the values used in them for climate sensitivity are just wildly wrong. So all the doom and gloom predictions from the Eco warriors are vastly overstated. Climate change has always happened since the world was formed several millions of years ago and oceans turned to deserts and deserts to forests when man wasn’t even roaming the earth. So who was responsible there then ?

    Oh by the way. Who was responsible for the disastrous Climate Change Act when at DECC……step forward Ed Miliband – Eco Loon extraordinaire.

  5. steve says:

    Ex-labour: “So all the doom and gloom predictions from the Eco warriors are vastly overstated.”

    Correct. Down here in drought-afflicted, sunny Somerset I’m anticipating a hosepipe ban at any moment.

  6. Tafia says:

    I’m no royalist (regarding it as an extension and manifestation of unionism), but it was interesting to see the two Princes up to their knacker-sacks in water humping sandbags while politicians such as Cameron, Miliband and Farage paddled about in a couple of inches of water with their hands in their pockets looking rather clueless and forlorn and serving no purpose whatsoever other than getting in the way. Although Cameron’s people have obviously kicked his behind and he was out in the rain today actually getting dirty.

  7. swatantra says:

    Another phot op for the Royals although they deny nit through theire teeth. If Labour had the ruthless Royal PR Machine we’ed be in clover.
    I go along wth what Peter Oborne says on this. Less than a 1000 homes actually affected for a brief period of time and inconvenience, and the politicians and Media are having kittens.
    But Ed was right to wrap up the whole issue of Climate change with the issue of Haves and Have Nots across the world. The 3rd World is sick and tired of the excesses in the uses of Resources like Water and Energy by the West. Don’t they know about recycling and reusing everything? And cutting down on luxury items?

  8. BenM says:

    “He seems to have no grand announcements, no firm policy over anything and very little to say that actually means anything”

    No grand announcements?

    Remind me – what was that energy price pledge that dominated the political arena for three months?

    Now, you might not like the proposal, but you cannot say it wasn’t a grand announcement.

    Like Ex Labour here (like hell!) I think you’ve just got into the habit of knee-jerk oppositionism.

    Step back and you’ll notice that Mr Miliband has been running this awful government ragged and setting the agenda relentlessly – with the lazy, out-his-depth PM huffing and puffing each time to catch up.

  9. Ex Labour says:

    @ Steve

    You make the classic mistake of confusing weather with climate. A mistake that numpty politicians make all the time in their quest for popularity and political correctness.

    Even the pro-eco loon Met Office has said there is no link between climate change and the current storms.

    Not unprecidented. Check out the figures for 1929/30.

  10. Tafia says:

    NenM – A grand announcement isn’t some off the cuff remark that is chucked into the wind to see how it blows – which is what the energy thing was, it is a carefully thought out major policy which includes what it will achieve, for how many people, how much it will cost and who will pay for it.

    The reason it dragged on is because it was so vague that it generated question after question. As it finally turned out no one knew how much it would cost or who would pay for it and it was finally revealed that it would only be for a year anyway. Notice how it’s quietly been buried?

    And he hasn’t been running the government ragged at all – he’s actually succeeded in making a rather mediocre Prime Minister look statesman-like whilst at the same time being continually tripped up by his own shadow Chancellor.

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