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Government flooded with confusion on line to take on floods

10 February 2014

In the past few days it has become increasingly difficult to tell what the Number 10 strategy is for responding to the floods. As one Tory MP remarked to me earlier, ‘there is a whiff of the Hurricane Katrina about Number 10’s handling of the floods. It’s the inconsistency of government comms and policy. First it was the Environment Agency’s fault, then rain, then the EU, then EA again. The the Army were helping, then not, then were. Then Pickles arses it on Sunday and ministers start falling out!’

Eric Pickles gave a sarcastic interview to the Mail on Sunday this weekend in which he said Chris Smith ‘has to make his own decision’ and ‘I don’t see myself becoming the advocate of the “Save Chris Smith” campaign or printing “Save The Environment Agency One” T-shirts’. Then Owen Paterson was reported to have complained ‘in the strongest possible terms’ to the Prime Minister about Pickles’ comments. Today, Pickles both defended the Environment Agency and managed to tell the Commons that he and Paterson were ‘two brothers from a different mother’:

‘Now with regard to the Environment Agency, it is entirely wrong for the honourable lady to suggest for one moment that I have issued even the slightest criticism of the marvellous workforce of the Environment Agency. My admiration for the work of the Environment Agency exceeds no-one and I believe it is time for us to work together and not to make silly party political points. And I am confident that with the help of the Environment Agency, the armed forces and the good work of local councils, that is exactly what we will do.’

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It’s worth pointing out, though, that Pickles didn’t rush to praise Chris Smith as a brother from another mother at any point. But either way, the story about the floods has become as much about bickering between ministers and quango chiefs as it has about the waters themselves, and as Pickles said, those floods aren’t going anywhere soon: more are on the way.

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  • Colin56

    Funny, isn’t it, that the playing fields of Eton get flooded and it’s all hands to the pump; whereas the Somerset Levels, Devon, Cornwall and swathes of Gloucestershire have to wait five weeks underwater for anything like the same degree of attention. It seems that no-one in government or the media cares for anyone living outside the rarefied confines of the M25 so long as we all pay our taxes and behave like good little citizens. Where’s my pitchfork?

  • Iain Hill

    Sack Pickles?

  • Colonel Mustard

    What needs to happen and it needs to happen soon is for a large defection of real conservative MPs from the Blairised, soft-socialist and newly authoritarian “Conservative” party to UKIP.

    Before the cnuts criminalise any more of our private lives.

  • wibbling

    One of thme will blame climate change, another Chris Smith, another the rain. The truly guilty party – as always – is the EU. Encouraging flooding is EU policy.

  • Frank

    The govt would presumably love to blame the EU, but Dave has presumably ordered everyone to avoid blaming the EU, given the Euro elections a few months away. Aside from this, this is the New Orleans point for this govt, a classic cluster-f**k.

  • The Red Bladder

    Floods in Somerset? “Oh what a bother”. Threatened floods in Berkshire and Surrey? “Action this day”!

  • Daniel Maris

    This saga has revealed in the harsh light of an emergency all of Pickles many, many failings.

  • John Smith

    just chuck Chris Smith in a flood & all will work out . .

  • bengeo

    “The prime minister, who returned to the flooded West Country on Monday, was said to be exasperated by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, who attacked the competence of the Environment Agency on Sunday and apologised for the policy decisions taken by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who is recuperating from eye surgery.”

  • Smithersjones2013

    Typical of the bloody Tories. They can’t even manage a real crisis properly.

    No doubt Hookeslaw will come out and call Pickles all the names under the sun and then expect the UKIP supporters of Brentwood and Ongar to vote for him.

    The omnishables of Toryism continues……..

    Meanwhile aside from the machinations of a psychotic Westminster the waters are still rising…….

    • HookesLaw

      On the contrary its you that’s popped up all as bloody usual with a fake twist on the truth.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Hookey. Thats a rather weak and flaccid retort. What fake twist on the truth?

        How about this twist to the story? Did you know Cameron had the opportunity to get rid of Smith three years ago but for some reason decided it was preferable to keep him on rather than appoint someone of a more conservative outlook.

        That’s another fine mess that Tories have got themselves into.

  • Andy

    Of course Pickles is basically right: that arrogant fat fool Lord Smith should take the blame and bloody well resign – now, this moment. His attitude on SkyNews was a disgrace.

    It is without a shadow of doubt that the actions of the EA certainly since 1997 have made the problems in the Somerset Levels much worse than they should have been. So he should accept that they ought to have dredged more than has been the case – he has admitted this – and resign.

    • HookesLaw

      This may be true but the scale of the rainfall must have led to massive floods in any case.
      Smith falls down by not being willing to engage with those who were suffering the consequences of the flooding.

      • Andy

        And the EA spent more than £2.4 million of PR activities when it would have cost £1.7 million to dredge sections of the two rivers in question.

      • Mynydd

        Cameron falls down by not being willing to engage with those who were suffering the consequences of the flooding until Prince Charles visited the area and made his views known. Then Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg called for an Atlas to find out where Somerset was.

        • 2trueblue

          Of course you would say that wouldn’t you? For 13yrs the previous government did nothing. Remember the bonuses in 2007 paid to those in the enviornmet when the country was flooded? Also the EU edict that said that the spoil from dredging could not be used on the fields adjacent to the rivers dredged? And then there is the Baroness who said she wanted to blow up the pumping stations and have more bird sanctuaries?

    • John Smith

      & the Thames?

    • Daniel Maris

      If Lord Smith is fat, what does that make Pickles? Lord Smith can hardly be held responsible for the actions of the EA “since 1997”.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Smith is weird looking. I suspect there is something reptilian lurking beneath.

      • Andy

        That arrogant fat fool Lord Smith can be held responsible for the actions of the EA since his appointment by the last government. He is a disgrace and should resign.

        • Mynydd

          Wrong he was appointed by Mr Cameron three years ago.

          • 2trueblue

            Re appointed.

          • Andy

            ‘On 8th May 2008 he was announced as teh new Chairman of the Environment Agency and took up the new role in mid July’ of 2008′. He was reappointed in 2011 by Caroline Spelman.

            He was appointed by who exactly ????????

        • 2trueblue

          Absolutely. I thought lessons were learned? But if you remember they all got their bonuses in 2007 despite the disgraceful neglect of the said same agency.

      • 2trueblue

        Ah but we were told that lessons had been learned in 2007. But obviously not.

  • McRobbie

    Pickles and cameron are doing the right thing by trying to avoid the blame game at this stage, its time to do some work and emergency actions. Of course the env agency is at fault..its over full of bird lovers and tree huggers and led by a red flag headbanger and jobsworth. Smith is going in july anyway but his defence of more money please and its all due to government “cuts” when they spent more on PR than on flood defences is disgusting but a typically left wing response.

    • 2trueblue

      Cameron now has to find words to state the facts as they are. Neglect, neglect, and more neglect is what has led us to our current situation. We can not keep the water out but if the Enviornment Agency had been a properly functioning department looking after our countryside then we would be better placed to deal with our situation. We must also look at the impact stupid edicts from the EU which prevent us from carrying out proper land husbandry.

  • Trapnel

    Watch the anger of the Wraysbury flood warden on skynews.

  • anyfool

    If Cameron has an ounce of common sense he will now sack all agency heads appointed by the previous government, all seem to be inept, nothing in the country seems to run well, what can you expect when jobs for socialist placemen is still the order of the day.
    How can you seriously blame ministers if the clowns appointed by the previous government cannot do their job, Chris Smith is just the latest of Labour appointees to lack even a basic idea of how to run a large concern.
    A cull of all is the least Cameron should do, his timidity when he came to power will bite him very severely, leaving in place people whose only ability was to spend other peoples money was foolish, when you needed and started cuts it was criminal.

    • jason green

      He was given a second term by the current government.

      • anyfool

        Cameron being feeble does not excuse nor condone the blinkered patronage that that put the nincompoop Smith in charge.

        • 2trueblue

          Easily said, but look at the result when Gove muted that he wanted to move a Liebore Peer.

    • John Smith

      What did happen to the ‘Bonfire of the Qangos’?
      It got wet

    • Iain Hill

      Some truth, but it is a wider problem. Remember Mandelson at the EU. All appointments should be made entirely on skills, experience and merit. Party considerations come a long way behind.

    • mikewaller

      This is exactly the kind of partisan crap that makes American politics so despicable. The net effect would not be better run agencies but just jobs for the boys as the inept “Brownie” demonstrated in New Orleans.

      The key issue here is that we are being subject to weather conditions way beyond previous experience. Ergo were we prepared for them, tens of thousands of folk and billions of assets would have been around doing nothing for decades. What Cameron should be doing is (a) ridding his party of narcissistic prima donnas like Pickles and Fox and replacing them with people who know how to pull together and are not obsessed with seeking to please some or other sectional interest; and

      (b) using his best efforts to persuade the British people that, contra clowns like Booker and Delingpole, that global warming is very much a clear and present danger and these are just some of the extreme weather events the much derided climate scientists have been predicting.

  • Doggie Roussel

    For god’s sake, don’t let Pickles any where near the floods…. inundation is one thing, but we don’t want tsunamis to follow… just use him as a sandbag to keep the floodwaters.

  • Rockin Ron

    Give a few days and Matthew Parris will pop up and defend Chris Smith. Just watch.

    • ButcombeMan

      Or George Monbiot will.

    • Geronimo von Huxley

      And what would be wrong with MP voicing that opinion?
      CS is de facto retired anyhow, he would be an inconsequential sacrifice so why bother if not for reason of plain point scoring?

  • rtj1211

    ‘Today, Pickles both defended the Environment Agency and managed to tell the Commons that he and Paterson were ‘two brothers from a different mother’:’

    Is he saying that both are political sons of Boris Johnson?!

    • HookesLaw

      He defended the environment agency workers in their waders.

    • Margaret Wright

      No, I think he is saying that neither mother was married

    • Smithersjones2013

      Their dad was a bit of a lad then. Is that what he is saying?

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    This is the government’s New Orleans moment. They just beginning to realise that as we speak.

    • HookesLaw

      Don’t be daft. Its Chris Smith the head of the EA who has been dodging the public. He should be the public face of the work going on and for weeks he was anonymous. The reason for his furtiveness as far as I can see is because those subject to the floods blame the actions of his department for the floods.
      Indeed it was the press who started the hunt for him and his skin. Now the press, which the Spectator thinks should be free from independent scrutiny, having started this hare running decides to criticise those it has encouraged to chase after it.

      • Lady Magdalene
        • HookesLaw

          Iain Martin? His reputation went south ages ago.

          • Lady Magdalene

            In whose opinion. Yours?
            I expect most of the DT readership – not just the UKIP ones – agree with him. This government is a shambles.

        • PFoure1964

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      • Smithersjones2013

        Indeed but Smith was reappointed by Cameron’s Environment Minister three years ago.

        Smith belongs as much to this Government as he did the previous in terms of this issue.

        • Mynydd

          Please stop posting facts you know it only upsets the children

        • 2trueblue

          That was one of Camerons mistakes. Smith and his cohorts were inefficient throughout Liebores tenure and Cameron should never have reappointed him. Then of course there is the fact that a certain Baroness Barbara Young, CE of the Enviornment Agency (previously from the BSPB) who said she would like to blow up the pumping stations and make the land over to bird sancturies. Cameron needs to up his game, but he can not hold back the water. The it all so much worse because of neglect over decades. Our whole infrastructure has not been upgraded whilst building has continued and stupidly some of it on flood plains.

    • Doggie Roussel

      Good to see that you have thrown your merkin into the ring…

  • Colin

    Pickles is a busted flush. He talks (Blusters) a much better game than he plays. Despite his rhetoric, he’s been unable to get councils to perform their basic duty of emptying the bins once a week. The idea that he has anything meaningful to add on serious matters, such as flood defence or environmental management is laughable.

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