There’s a lot of rain about. We know this because it’s had, er, saturation coverage on the telly. Many of us saw the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, being boo’ed the other day in Somerset, where the Levels there have had it pretty bad. It can’t be easy for folk there, what with flooded farmland affecting their livelihood or flooded houses cheesing them off. So they’ve been complaining that the government hasn’t been dredging the rivers enough to stop the flooding.
Mind you, as Channel 4 News weatherman Liam Dutton pointed out this evening (here’s the lunchtime broadcast), the Somerset levels is a flood plain. He also let viewers know that some professor or other is saying that dredging wouldn’t have stopped this year’s flooding anyway – which, by the way, is what the Environment Agency says too.
So, while it’s quite right that media outlets should cover unhappy people complaining that ‘something must be done’, and while it’s part of Owen Patterson’s job to don Hunter wellies and get shouted at by people, maybe it’s time we heard a little about the other side of the situation?
For example, farms are businesses and all businesses face risks against which they can insure themselves. The cost of land and money reflects all of that. The risk of flooding on the Somerset Levels is hardly an ‘unknown unknown’. And people who buy houses in a flood plain can’t really realistically blame the government entirely when it, er, floods. Can they?
Neither of those things are to say the government should abrogate all responsibility, and in fact it hasn’t. Here, for example, are the ‘Flood Re’ proposals which the government and insurance industry have put together to mitigate the cost of insurance for households vulnerable to flooding. And the government has sent in the army and asked the Environment Agency to deploy greater resources to help people as much as they can within resources.
Of course, successive governments have encouraged building in flood plains as a means of reducing the cost of housing, especially in rural areas. And farmers are producing for all of us. But the more the government spends on apparently ineffectual river dredging, the less it can spend on, say, schools. The more spent subsidising people who’ve bought nice houses in flood plains, the less can be spent on care for the elderly. A debate like this is about the proper use of public resources; it really isn’t just a matter for rural folk.
It’s a terribly inconvenient thing to have to go through, having your house flooded out. Relations of mine once spent 6 months living with my Mum when their house was inundated by a local river. And it’s annoying for businessmen like farmers when risk manifests itself – mind you, a lot of insurance folk make their living on that basis; as in – ‘that’s what happens, man’.
Yet the the simple fact is that people make their own choices, business and personal, and while the government can help, people have to take some responsibility themselves. The local MP in Somerset, Ian Liddell Grainger, is a very decent bloke doing a thoroughly good job for his constituents. But he’s a Tory in a safe seat and it’s safe to assume that most locals give the idea of higher public spending short shrift. Indeed, many of them will be the sort of folk who go heavy on the virtues of self-reliance – the kind of folk who are tough on welfare and expect people to help themselves rather than wait for the government to take up the slack? Actually, I’m completely with them on that.
So, along with the perfectly reasonable appeals for help from the taxpayer, maybe we can hear a bit more from the inundated about why they made their own choices, about what they can do to mitigate risk for themselves and about how the virtues of self-reliance they quite rightly treasure apply to themselves too?