Posts Tagged ‘Floods’

Vox Political: Another Attack on Free Speech as Tories Ban Government-Funded Charities from Lobbying for More Cash

February 7, 2016

Another of Mike’s articles that’s very well worth reading is this piece, in which he reports that the government is passing legislation to prevent charities and other organisations that receive government funding from campaigning to change the law or receive more cash: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/06/charities-banned-from-using-government-grants-to-lobby-ministers/

At first, it looks like a piece of democratic legislation. The government is making sure that organisations, that have been co-opted into government, cannot campaign for more funding from the government. But this is deceptive. Mike makes the point that such sock-puppets should have been weeded out from the very start. He makes the point instead that it looks like the government is trying to shut down any form of protest or criticism.

Indeed they are. Look at the way Cameron’s government is trying to water down the Freedom of Information Act, and the excuses they make for not releasing information to campaigners. The tactics of stonewalling, prevarication and then finally launching appeals against court judgement ordering them to release the information at the very last minute. The frank admission to anti-workfare campaigners that they don’t want to publish lists of firms participating in the wretched scheme, in case they get criticised and pull out. The moaning that information released under the Freedom of Information Act should be used just to understand how official decisions are made, not to criticise them.

The message this gives charities and other non-governmental organisations, that receive state funding is that government financial aid is a poisoned chalice. You’ll get the money, but it’s at the price of keeping silent and toeing the party line. And, of course, you’ll take the blame is anything goes wrong and the results the government will confidently tell everyone will come from giving you such monies don’t actually materialise.

One of the complaints from charities and other organisations campaigning on particular issues is that the government funds devoting to solving them are never, or rarely sufficient, and government action is on an issue may well be minimal. Quite often, they look like token gestures, designed to satisfy voters in a crisis that the government is taking an issue seriously, before the government then moves on to do what it really wants – cut taxes and make the poor even more desperate. If you want an example from outside the charity/social policy sector, the immediate case is the floods. The last time they happened, Cameron shot around telling the victims and the British public that money would be no object, along with lots of photo opportunities of him and various Tory MPs looking across waterlogged fields in their green wellies. And now that it’s happened again, it appears that proper funding was not allocated. And indeed, an opportunity for getting money from the EC was missed, because the Conservatives hadn’t bother to get the application off in time.

This is the type of excuse you hear from members of the public explaining why they hadn’t sent in their tax details, or car insurance and road tax. At least one guilty driver used to make that excuse every week on a Channel 4 or 5 show devoted to the highway patrol. Each week one suspicious driver would be flagged down and caught driving a car without tax or insurance, and sometimes without a licence. And in many cases, the excuse was the same: they’d just bought the vehicle, but hadn’t got round to getting the tax and insurance sorted out. Or they were in the post to the DVLA. It’s the kind of excuse you expect to hear from some of the less competent or organised members of the public, or simply idle petty crims. You don’t expect it from central government, especially when it’s loudly trumpeting about how it’s more efficient in every way than the last administration. A colossal bungle like that shows they aren’t. If it is indeed a bungle, and not simply a way of cutting more expenditure to needy areas by any way possible.

This is a government that hates democracy and open government with a passion. Its message has always been brutally simple: We are your superiors. Shut up and do what you’re told, all the while claiming to do the opposite. This is yet another example of the authoritarianism underneath all the rhetoric of combatting corruption.

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The Floods and Cameron’s Lies

February 12, 2014

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I’ve put up a couple of posts recently on the lies David Cameron has told about the floods. In the first post I questioned Cameron’s assertion that the Coalition had spent more on flood defences than the Labour Party. The second post I put up was reblogged from Pride’s Purge, which provided the figures showing that the Coalition was spending far less on the floods than Labour. Further confirmation of this comes from this article from Private Eye’s issue for 20th to 23rd January 2014:

‘”There are a lot of flood defences being built,” claimed David Cameron outside a flooded village pub in Yalding, Kent, at the end of December. “But we have got to do more.”

Days later environment secretary Owen Paterson insisted that cuts to 550 flood prevention, warning and recovery jobs at the Environment Agency (EA) – splashed on by the Telegraph last week, though Eye readers read about them last year – are somehow being made “with the intention of protecting frontline services concerned with floods.” “This government is spending more than all preceding governments on flood defences,” he added. It should, but it isn’t.

Things were already bad under Labour. In 2007, official figures showed the EA missed its target of keeping just 63 percent of England’s existing flood defences up to scratch (Eye 1187); and the National Audit Office said it would take an extra $150m a year just to reach the target. But since the coalition came to power in 2010, far from tackling the flood defence backlog it has actually spent even less on flood defences.

A briefing paper last year found a 6 percent overall fall in central government funding for flood and coastal defence during the 2011-15 spending review period. Even the extra £120m announced in November 2012 – after it was revealed that 294 flood defence schemes across England were on hold after never receiving funding they’d been promised – didn’t bring spending back up to even 2010 levels.

But never mind! Government had a new wheeze to encourage local and private funding of flood defence through “Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding”. This, claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would enable “more local choice” and “encourage innovative, cost-effective options”. Alas, as the Local Government Association told parliament last year: “securing private sector contributions in the current economic climate is particularly challenging.” By 2015, just £38m for flood defence is expected to be raised from private sources – and the likely funders are firms who want to develop on flood plains.

Extra cash is available from taxpayers via the government’s “Growing Places Fund” – which is specifically for infrastructure, such as transport or flood defence, which will “unlock jobs and housing “developments. So the only way to get flood defence funded is … to build yet more on land at risk of flooding! Clever, eh?’

This piece not only shows that Cameron has been lying once again – and one wonders if anyone at the Coalition has ever, in their entire lives, told anyone the truth – but it’s also par for the course for the lamentable performance of Thatcher’s programme of wholesale privatisation. Thatcher, you will remember, was insistent that private industry would give you more choice, as well as be more efficient than state-managed monopolies and concerns. Hence the Coalition’s boast that their Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding would provide ‘more local choice’. Well, it has been demonstrably less efficient and effective at raising money for flood defences than traditional forms of state taxation, borrowing and allocation of funds. As for choice, that hasn’t noticeably been one of the Partnership’s priorities either. None of the poor souls now being flooded out of their homes and businesses in Somerset, Berkshire and elsewhere chose to be so, and the government has gone back to using state spending to combat the floods. So that’s another resounding triumph for private industry then.

Or at least it will be the next time Cameron and his cabinet start telling lies about it.

Conservative Apologies and Lies in Flooded Somerset

February 10, 2014

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‘How do you know when a politician’s lying?’
‘His lips move.’

-Old Joke told on the Max Headroom Show circa 1986.

‘How do you know when David Cameron is lying?’
‘I refer the honourable gentleman/lady to the answer to the previous question.’

David Cameron will be touring the flooded areas of south-western England this morning trying to reassure the poor souls there that the government is doing its uttermost to combat the disaster and help the people recover their homes, land and livelihoods that are now drowned under the flood waters.

It’s a horrific disaster, as a brief glance at the pictures coming from the affected areas show. In Somerset people have had to be moved out of their houses, while farmer’s have lost crops as the floods covered their fields. One farmer was faced with the stark choice between selling or giving some of his cattle away, or sending them to be slaughtered as he had nowhere he could keep them, so hard was his farm hit by the floods.

During prehistory, and then in the early middle ages the Somerset levels was marshland, and some memory of the extend of the marsh environment is shown in area’s place names. The ‘ey’ in the names of places such as Muchelney, Athelney and so on comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ieg’, meaning an island. These villages were islands of dry land in the surrounding marsh. During the Neolithic the local people constructed the Sweet Track, a timber walkway through the marsh supported by poles as a way of getting across the marshy environment. Similar wooden tracks crossing the north German moors were built during the Iron Age.

The marshland was gradually reclaimed from the 13th century onwards, though by the end of the 17th century only about a 1/3 of the levels was dry land. The remaining land was reclaimed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Water management and drainage has continued to be vital to the maintenance of the Levels, as the area is criss-crossed by a series of ‘rhines’ and drainage channels, like the King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Historically it has suffered from terrible floods. One in the early 17th century, created through a combination of bad weather and a tidal surge up the Severn Estuary, drowned houses, fields and livestock with the flood waters advancing about eight miles from Glastonbury itself. One eyewitness to this inundation recalled seeing crows perching on floating sheep, until the sheep in their turn sank and drowned. Fortunately the modern floods aren’t that severe, but they’re harmful enough to the people down there, who’ve had to be moved out of their houses.

Cameron visited the area yesterday, promising the local people that there would be every effort to combat the floods and that £3 million had been allocated to do this. He also made other, predictable claims that the government was spending more on flood defences than the Labour government.

Cameron has been merely the latest in a line of politicians and public figures to come down to look at the disaster and speak to its victims. They included Chris Smith, the environment secretary, and Prince Charles. Smith’s response to the crisis had caused even more anger. The local Tory MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, was furious at the way the environment agency had handled the disaster. He stated that when the area had suffered flooding a year ago, he spoke to Smith, who promised that suitable action would be taken. Nothing, however, was done. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Eric Pickles offered an unconditional apology to the people of Somerset for the way the government had mishandled it. Liddell-Grainger had gone even further, and demanded Smith’s resignation. Smith duly appeared on TV to say he had absolutely no intention of resigning, and was completely satisfied with his Agency’s actions. This had simply infuriated Mr Liddell-Grainger even more, and no doubt contributed to the apology offered by Pickles.

Cameron also acknowledged that mistakes had been made. He stated that the Agency had stopped dredging the Levels in the 1990s, and that this was a mistake.

Now the floods wreaking havoc throughout the country are a vital issue for Cameron and his administration. Not only are they a national disaster, but the areas affected are of crucial political importance for the Tory party. Like much of rural England, parts of Somerset are a Tory heartland. My parents have joked before now that in some of the villages, there used to be only two social clubs you could join when they were young: the Farmers’ Union and the Young Conservatives. With the Tories now suffering competition from UKIP, Cameron needs to show the Tories’ traditional constituents that he is indeed acting on their behalf.

Mixed in the with promises, however, are liberal amounts of the lies, which you can expect from a Tory leader. I’ve reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, on the way the way the BBC – surprisingly! – picked up the way the Tories had manipulated the graphs showing funding for the Environment Agency to suggest that it was actually much larger than it actually was. As for their claim that the Tories were now spending more on flood defences than Labour, this is may well be true. Now. After the floods had occurred, and demanded immediate action. I doubt very, very much this was the case before though. An administration dedicated to cutting government spending, and which reneged on its promises to preserve the NHS, is hardly likely to have left the Environment Agency untouched.

As for Cameron’s acknowledgement that they had stopped dredging in the 1990s, and this was a mistake, this occurred under the last Tory prime minister, John Major. During Major’s administration Private Eye ran a number of stories reporting the way government agencies and watchdogs regulating the environment and the utilities were increasingly downsized, with their powers restricted, in order to give greater freedom to industry. I’ve got a feeling that one of these was almost certainly the Environment Agency or its predecessor. Cameron’s government is similarly dedicated to minimising, if not removing altogether, government regulation and interference, and so I cannot see any long term changes occurring under Cameron. In fact, I can see the complete opposite. After the floods recede, what will probably happen is that, after a brief show of some token of increased funding or activity, the Environment Agency will go back to doing as little as possible as usual. Worse, it will probably be under pressure to cut services further to make savings to make up for the vast amount spent dealing with the floods. So despite Cameron’s grandiose claims, the people currently hit by the floods will be less protected afterwards than they were before.

What matters is not that permanent solutions are put in place to tackle the floods and prevent them occurring all over again. What matters is that Cameron is seen to be doing something, so that he can continue to cling to power and make further savings by slashing government expenditure. This is what his paymasters in the multinationals want. And the locals in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Berkshire will be left to fend for themselves.

Nigel Farage and Clyde the Orangutan: Who Would Make a Better Job of Sorting Out UKIP?

January 28, 2014

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UKIP Supremo Nigel Farage: Sound Policies for a Happier Britain

UKIP is once more in the news. After a series of scandals by UKIP councillors and politicians, Nigel Farage has responded with a few scathing comments on his party’s membership. In an interview with the Times today (28th January 2014), Farage declared that the ‘wrong kind of people are in UKIP’ and urged the party not to elect Walter Mittys. This follows a series of highly offensive comments by UKIP councillors, such as asking a group of children from care homes how it feels to be ‘takers from society’. If that weren’t enough, another stalwart of the party of Eurosceptics declared that the recent floods in Somerset was God’s punishment for gay marriage. This last comment produced mixed cries of scorn and amusement all over the country. A female friend of mine told me that one of her gay friends had said about this prize piece of Right-wing idiocy, ‘They’re blaming me for the floods! I’ve never had such power before!’

In fact, this particular attitude to the floods is pretty much in line with some of the more ridiculous comments about pro-gay movements and legislation that have come out of the American Right over the past few decades. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye in their ‘Funny Old World’ column printed a piece from one of the local American papers covering Jerry Falwell’s attack on a gay pride march in Orlando, Florida. This most notorious of the Right-wing televangelists attacked the planned march with the statement that if the gay community continued ‘shaking their fists’ at the Almighty, then He would punish them with an earthquake, tsunami or perhaps even wipe the place out with an asteroid. The paper then asked the Bishop of Florida for his comment on Falwell’s diatribe. This man of God put the religious situation in his city into a broader perspective. Overall, he declared, ‘Orlando was a pretty god-fearing place. You’d think if he was going to wipe anywhere out, He’d start with Vegas’.

Yesterday the news revealed that one of UKIP’s MEPs for Somerset had the worst voting record in the European parliament. In a TV interview, the politico acknowledged in response to one of the questions put to him, that the allowance paid to him for attending the sessions were a factor in his turning up at sessions at all, thus adding idleness and venality to the party’s record of bigotry and contempt for the poor and vulnerable.

Hence Farage’s comments about the party having the wrong people in it.

This is a bit rich coming Farage. It reminds me of the proverb ‘A fish rots from the neck down’. Going further back a decade or so ago, Farage himself was also several time in Private Eye himself, after he was spotted having lunch with ‘Nasty’ Nick Griffin of the BNP. Farage has always tried to distance his party from racism and xenophobia, not entirely successfully, so perhaps the two were instead not discussing the politics of race, but the expanding power of the centralist state and the growing threat of Bolshevism in British society.

In fact, Farage’s remarks about his own people strongly reminds me of a comment the Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht made about the East German authorities’ absolute contempt for their own people. There had been a popular uprising, and Honegger, or whoever was in charge at the time, responded by sending in the tanks. The man responsible for such masterpieces of Weimar theatre as Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui drily remarked, ‘The politburo has unanimously decided to dissolve the people and elect another’.

It also parallels another disparaging comment by an exasperated leader on the quality of his on a rather less elevated cultural level: ‘Clint Eastwood’s Any Which Way But Loose. In this flick, Eastwood stars as a trucker, who falls foul of an outlaw biker gang. After a fight in which the motorcycle maniacs are thoroughly done over by the star of Dirty Harry and his orang-utan companion, Clyde, their leader cries in despair ‘Oh, Lord! Other men you made of clay! Why did you make mine of sh*t!’ It’s a question Farage is clearly asking himself today, though with a less earthy vocabulary. Perhaps he should be a bit stricter in who the party recruits, and needs a better PR department. All the party’s now have extensive spin machines and press officers. Maggie, of course, had Bernard Ingham. From the way UKIP’s politicos act, I think Clyde would be a better choice for them. After all, in the film he had an excellent sense of humour, charisma, and never said anything embarrassing, unlike UKIP’s hordes of blunt Right-wingers.

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Clyde the orang-utan expressing his penetrating analysis of UKIP’s grasp of EU economics and the question of the Britain’s position within it during filming with Clint Eastwood.