Someone must have thought that it was a good idea for Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to go on The Andy Marr Show (tm) yesterday to talk about the flooding problems, and especially those of the Somerset Levels. Sadly, the appearance did not go at all well, as Pickles rambled, casually slagged off those experts whose advice he deemed inconvenient, and dumped on the Environment Agency (EA).
Yet the sight of a Cabinet Minister displaying such conspicuous ineptitude was signally useful, showing the world just what a complete shambolic farce the Tories have become. We have a senior partner in Government that has ignored anything reasoned and factual about the flooding, substituting instead the rantings from purveyors of serial dishonesty such as the ridiculous Christopher Booker.
Booker is, in turn, getting most of what passes for information in his world from batshit conspiracy theorists like Richard North, a source that yesterday saw the Telegraph devote a full page to the untrue and frankly paranoid assertion that the inundation of the Levels had been ordered by the EU. Here is Government allowing the Fourth Estate the full measure of “power without responsibility”.
Some in the EA, and outside experts, have tried to point out that the obsession with dredging will do little to alleviate the flooding. The Science Media Centre has published the view of Roger Falconer, a Professor of Water Management at the University of Cardiff: “I cannot see that dredging would make much impact in alleviating the problems in the Somerset Levels”.
Also relayed were the views of Hannah Cloke, a flooding expert from the University of Reading, who told “Dredging would not have prevented the flooding in Somerset”, and Ola Holmstrom, UK Head of Water at consultants WSP: “Improve the [rate of flow] in Muchelney and you will more than likely increase flood risk in Bridgwater – is this acceptable?” to which the answer may not be a positive one.
Meanwhile, it is being claimed that the EA is being used like a “political football”. Its head Chris Smith told that “In a lifetime in public life, I've never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces”. That means you, Eric Pickles.
And the mildly inconvenient fact that we have had several weeks of heavy rain, especially in the south of England, seems to have been forgotten in all the ranting. Large amounts of water in river catchment areas can lead to flooding. Anyone not able to visualise this should look at what is happening around the River Thames right now. This will not be alleviated by dredging.
It’s about time the quacks, shysters, conspiracy nuts and spin merchants backed off.