The right attack on Cameron’s handling of the floods isn’t about cuts or climate change, but competence

by Jonathan Todd

Number 10 has long wished to minimise media coverage of backbench rebellions to maximise airtime on economic recovery. Hence, Cameron’s concessions to his backbenches. But members of the government have needlessly distracted media focus from economic recovery. For example, Michael Gove picking another fight with Ofsted and the failure of government whips to have any women on the frontbench for PMQs.

These own goals confirm that Labour is not up against a crack operation. The floods, in contrast, are a crisis that Cameron’s government would have had to confront even if he’d run a tighter ship. They are, obviously, a crisis for the people whose homes are underwater. The nature of the political crisis that they represent for Cameron and what they reveal about his government is more contested.

By announcing that ‘money is no object’, according to Jonathan Freedland, the prime minister has performed the last rites on the notion of inevitable austerity. The prime minister’s words constitute an incredible hostage to fortune and a risk that he didn’t need to take. The careless political slips of his government begin at the top.

Reflecting on his time near the top of the last government, Patrick Diamond recently noted: “Policy is increasingly about resolving trade-offs accentuated by financial constraints and fiscal austerity”. Cameron, though, leaves no room for trade-offs. No matter how bad the floods get, irrespective of whatever ill-considered building decisions may have been made, in spite of whomever may be at fault, public money is still supposedly no object.

In a world of scarcity, as this world inevitably is, the prime minister’s remark is vulgarly illogical. It’s not – pace Freedland – that there is money when Cameron previously said there isn’t. It’s that this money has limits. Resources are finite. Governments must, consequently, decide how to allocate these resources to best effect. In this sense, trade-offs are even more fundamental than Diamond argues.

Another kind of argument that is made against Cameron is that which Ed Miliband put to the Observer. He maintains that under Cameron the UK is “sleepwalking to a crisis over climate change”. YouGov polling reveals that the public increasingly agree with Miliband and leading scientists that the floods are the result of climate change.

While this debate awaits definitive resolution, there remains a debate on whether the best response is to mitigate climate change, adapt to it or some mix of the two. The UK contributes only 2% of global carbon emissions. Even if we somehow managed to wholly mitigate this contribution, at the expense of the energy intensive lifestyles that we’re accustomed to, in isolation this would do little to halt the advance of climate change. Successful mitigation would require similar across the world, often in countries that hunger for the lifestyles that we’ve long enjoyed and which it would be hypocritical for us to seek to deny them.

Of course, we should support international efforts to ensure that the developing world develops sustainably and to decarbonise the developed world. But these efforts entail an immense co-ordination challenge and thus, there is a risk that they may be unsuccessful. Even if they are successful, what the floods show is that the UK has a long way to go to adapt to climate change, irrespective of how successful we mitigate it domestically and internationally.

We should be managing water over the whole of its catchment area. As these catchments typically disregard local authority boundaries, Cameron’s abolition of regional spatial planning makes this harder. We should be meeting housing demand through energy efficient new towns and curbing building on floodplains. But Cameron’s localism is only capitulation to nimbies in the Tory shires. We should be using public land to prototype new homes future proofed against the changes that our climate will bring. Cameron is, however, hobbled by disinclination to innovate with the kind of public-private ventures that would get this off the ground.

In all these senses, what the floods reveal, therefore, is Cameron’s deep-seated incompetence. The slow motion car crash of universal credit undermines his claim to be improving the welfare system. His chancellor promised to clear the deficit in this parliament and now wants almost all of the next to complete this task. On welfare and the deficit, as with the floods, the recurring motif of the Cameron administration is incompetence.

To most hurt Cameron, Labour doesn’t need to convince that cuts aren’t necessary (because they are) or call the people to arms in the climate change fight (because adaptation will be needed anyway). But should go hard after evidence of Cameron’s incompetence. Which is now litters all parts of his government. The floods again reveal this chronic vulnerability.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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4 Responses to “The right attack on Cameron’s handling of the floods isn’t about cuts or climate change, but competence”

  1. Ex-Labour says:

    Like most on the left you are scientifically illiterate. You swallow all this “concensus” stuff when in fact there is no concensus at all. If you like to do some research the concensus was about a few dozen scientists. This will explain it in simple terms

    Here is a link to a site where over 31,000 scientists have signed a petition against the “concensus”

    The current problem is based around the Jet Stream and it normal movements (oscillations) – or lack of them in this case.

    Lets be clear our dealy beloved Met Office who are ‘Warmistas’ who preach the gospel of man made climate change totally disagree with your theory. Professor Mat Collins said “There is no evidence that global warming can cause the jet stream to get stuck in the way it has this winter”.

    Other experts on storms, hurricanes etc such as Dr Judith Curry say that the actual number of these events, contrary to media hysteria, have not increased and in fact have been much worse in the past.

    What about you doing some research on rainfall and flooding in Somerset in 1929/30 ?

  2. Jonathan Todd says:

    Hi Ex-Labour, Thank you – I did write: This debate awaits definitive resolution. I never claimed the consensus that you say I did. Nonetheless, recent events suggest that the UK is not as prepared as we might be for flooding and other extreme weather.

  3. swatantra says:

    If we accept the austerity argument, then nothing, nothing is sacrosanct; that means that all departments and areas of Govt spending need looking at, and that means even Health and Pensions and DFID. There is no earthly reason why when circumstances change and are so dire, then you re-assess your contribution to all areas. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you cut across the board by 20%; it just means that you re-assess the value of that contribution. But every area in fairness, and lets be brutal about it, the filthy rich and tax evaders, are going to have to make a contribution as well as the long suffering Pensioners. Nobody is entitled to escape their share of misery.
    As to Camerons dithering, its important to remember that its unwise to take kneejerk reaction. When Nature is at its extreme, there’s b****r all you do about it except let events play out their course, and then when things quieten down step in and do the fixing so it won’t be so bad next time. And there will always be a next time.

  4. Ex-Labour says:

    @ Johnathan Todd

    Johnathan my outburst was due to that fact that people on the left (generally speaking) are quick to blame man made climate change on any event we have. It could be the current rainfall or a spot of dry weather in Africa or even something as ridiculous as I saw recently on local authority tree felling policy.

    As you point out our carbon emissions in comparison to China, the US and many others is insignificant and even if we stopped all our emissions now immediately China’s increase would account for the Uk within 12 months.

    Your beloved Ed Miliband introduced the Climate Change Act on the basis of dodgy science from a very small group of interconnected and activist scientists who associated themselves with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their work has been consistently proved to be wrong, but unfortunately these scientifc papers have generally been ignored by politicians eager for the eco-vote.

    It may interest you and other readers to know that all the ddom and gloom predicitions are based on computer models. These and the data used have now been thoroughly discredited as we have now had time to see empirical evidence over the last 15 -20 years. This evidence shows that the models predicting 4 degree celcius rises before the end of this centrury are wildly inaccurate. In fact a critical part of any calculation is climate sensitivity and evidence is now showing that this measure is far less than previously thought making the Guardian / Warmista alarmism totally unwarranted.

    The UK is spending (and taxing us) up to £18 Billion a year to fight something which is or may be non existant. Does that not concern you ? What could we do with this money for health, eductation and yes even flood defences !!

    What we are seeing at the moment is weather as opposed to climate and whilst it is unusual it is by no means unprecendented. Please keep things in perspective and dont conflate the issues you want to highlight with some climate change spin. It really does weaken the point you try to make.

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