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Flood damage is a cruel metaphor for Tory failure to see that cuts have consequences. It is defining Britain

Posted on 30 December 2015 | 2:12pm

Here is a piece I have done this morning for International Business Times.

I sometimes think David Cameron lives his life as his own Action Man doll, dressing himself up according to the various demeanours he wishes to display.

For Parliament it is the classic dark blue suit, white shirt and (always, as if he needed to remind us he was a Conservative) a blue tie.

But he is never happier than when able to rip himself free of the tie and dress to say to the world ‘Action Man needs to dress according to the actions he is busy taking.’

He rarely wears a tie when campaigning, adores a good old jacket off, all the better to pump his clenched fist when he is delivering the clip he wants the news to carry on the bulletins in the evening.

NHS visits have the sleeves rolled up, sending out the message that if only he wasn’t so busy being Prime Minister he could actually do the operations more and more people are waiting longer and longer to have.

Cameron loves waking to the news that he is to chair a meeting of COBRA, the dramatic- sounding name given to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A which is as far removed from a White House Situation Room as can be imagined. But not in Cameron’s head. COBRA says ‘I am busy, I am being kept up to date with developments, I am instructing the arms of the State in which direction they should wave aimlessly.’ Terror attacks, military strikes, public health scares, transport chaos and now floods, COBRA has been giving plenty of succour to his Action Man tendencies.

So off he went in his wellies, made all the right noises, struck all the right poses, then back into his helicopter, and home in time for tea.

The problem was… we had seen him play this tune before… the last time he donned the wellies, made all the right noises, struck all the right poses, then got back into the helicopter and home in time for tea.

So this week he didn’t get quite as good a reception as the last time because the flood victims had heard it all before – the noises about doing everything it takes, stopping at nothing, making sure they get the resources they need, looking at what went wrong, then learning the lessons and making sure… blah blah blah.

Of course he relies on the fact that before too long the world’s attention moves on to another situation which requires another Cobra, another look and another Action Man outfit. It is only when he keeps needing to get out the repeated looks that we get reminded he keeps promising to sort things out, and then doesn’t.

At the heart of all this, however good he is at turning on the style, are two points of real substance which get to the heart of why this government spends so much time dealing with and reacting to events. The first is that he is endlessly tactical in an era that requires strategic leaders more than ever.

The second is that the floods are a horrible metaphor for the Cameron-Osborne view of the State and how money should, or more likely should not, be spent.

One of the tragedies of the past decade is that the Tories successfully played, and won, a political game over ‘the mess we inherited from Labour.’ They were helped in this by Labour unfortunately colluding with it, by failing adequately to rebut the attack.

The purpose from the Tories’ perspective was to pin on Labour the principal blame for the consequences of the global financial crisis, and subsequently the blame for the crash itself, as a way of reducing trust of Labour on the economy. It was a ludicrous attack which should never have succeeded but it did, thanks to Tory discipline of message delivery and Labour failure of rebuttal and lack of confidence about defending our own very good record.

This had the deeper consequence of identifying within the political debate the idea that public spending is per se a bad thing. This was deliberate from the Tories. To justify an assault on the State they always wanted to mount they had to win an argument that State spending is profligate and that in any event it doesn’t deliver the value for money that it should.

It meant that when George Osborne was going through the spending bids of departments – particularly once freed of a Lib Dem around his neck – he was demanding cuts to all budgets to meet very dramatic State-shrinking targets that even Margaret Thatcher didn’t dare try.

So something like flood defences, when the purpose is to cut all budgets as low as they will go, is not an essential part of infrastructure in an era of changing climate, but a number that has to be cut. Any argument that proper investment might lead to savings in the future is swept to one side.

Yet that is the best argument for public spending in the first place and it is one Labour should have made with more vigour, and should do so with more vigour now.

What we are seeing with floods is the inevitable consequence of a mindset that sees virtue in cuts today without regard to the consequences tomorrow. The cost of dealing with these floods now and in the future will dwarf anything saved by scrimping on the costs of proper flood defences. Similarly, cuts to police will see a rise in crime which will end up costing us more. Failure to invest in defence will see a rise in the threats we face which will end up costing us more.

Thanks to the investment which the Tories managed to turn into a negative post, a crash caused by forces of ultra-conservative ultra-capitalism in the US, Labour ended winter crises in the NHS. They are back. Thanks to the same investment we put a virtual end to rough sleeping. Now there is barely a town or city in the country where you won’t see people living on the streets. And the costs to the State will be felt further down the track in police time, court time, prisons, hospital services.

The same investment saw Sure Start giving poorer families the kind of start and support they needed. We are already seeing the consequences of the ideological cuts.

Spending on schools rose by around 5% a year under Labour and hundreds of secondaries were rebuilt. In this Parliament schools are facing cuts of between 9% and 12% percent according to the IFS, which will undoubtedly impact on the education of our most disadvantaged pupils. Cameron somewhat implausibly says he wants all children to have the kind of opportunities he had. But by his very actions he is making it not just implausible but impossible.

David Cameron is very good at looking the part. He is very good at finding the right clothes and the right words for the moment. But he is very bad at understanding that many of the problems he vows so passionately post-Cobra to solve are problems which he and his ideological approach to public spending have created.

  • Gillian C.

    Good blog post AC, I wouldn’t quibble with any of that.
    Cameron is an over-promoted PR man with the right connections. Action Man doll is a great analogy. Reminds me of leading members of the Royal family, who have a different military uniform for almost every occasion. It’s all such a farce.
    A Cobra meeting is meant to send out the message that this is really serious! I’m afraid it just makes me laugh, even though it’s not funny.
    These deliberate and ruthless spending cuts are going to end up costing us the taxpayers a small fortune. Such false economy.
    Politics of the privileged few and to hell with the rest of us.
    Only thing that worries me slightly more than Cameron as PM would be Gideon or the truly appalling Mrs May as PM.

    Ps. Thanks for not mentioning ‘Climate Change’ in your blog post AC, very wise.

    • Ehtch

      They seem to be having a Cobra meeting to even organise a Queen’s garden tea party these days Gillian, it seems. Wonder what they will cry wolf call it when they really need to hold a proper Cobra meeting? A Cobra+ v.2, the return of the Jedi, meeting? Pathetic.

      And yes, seeing Prince Charles in senior rank uniforms for each three forces at various times through the decades is incredibly laughable, and with all that thread and gongs on his tit for show. Makes him look like the late Idi Amin, or some South American banana republic leader from the 1950s.

  • Gareth Howell

    In case anybody has forgotten, it was the same Tory dogmatic cuts that resulted in the 1981 Defence Review and the withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic. That is seen by many as the catalyst for the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands.

    • Gillian C.

      I suspect the withdrawal of HMS Endurance was more about sending an invitation to Argentina to invade the Falklands, rather than any cost saving exercise.

      Maggie and the Tories were not doing at all well in the opinion polls at that time and with a General Election due in 1983, what better for her/their ratings than a conflict with another country.

      Conflict or war tends to bring out the patriotism in people. Maggie’s war went a long way towards her winning the 1983 GE and a second term as PM.

    • Ehtch

      It was the same cost-cutting bollocks again then with the military, Gareth. But Thatcher soon changed her tune with the South Atlantic disaster, as well as USSR getting closer to the button, when Reagan started winding them up with that star wars space lasers fantasy bollocks, and Afghanistan then with tit-for-tat Moscow and LA Olympic games mutual no show ups.

      Bollocks keeps repeating themselves with these Tories. All talk of new nuclear submarines, when we haven’t got an aircraft carrier at the moment, we can hardly deploy half a dozen aircraft somewhere in the World to defend interests, and this recruitment for part-time weekend warriors to the army, air force and navy to replace “retired”/sacked regulars is falling flat on it’s face.

      We are a laughing stock, quite pathetic, in the World.

      • Ehtch

        Must post this photo, I “slightly” modified,

  • Ehtch

    Grouse moors and York pumping stations – if it was not so tragic, I’d laugh. A great article by George Monbiot, and very informative,

    Here in Wales, we are well known to get the odd gallon or million of rain, but I think The Assembly is doing a fine job in keeping a hang on the tiller, ruddering us from too many floods. What happened to Tadcaster Bridge in Yorkshire, 300 years old, and Pooley Bridge in Cumbria, 250 years old, was simply criminal. When was their stonework last re-pointed? When was the rubble underneath them last cleared? And I point a finger at the leaders of these North of England councils too, who invariably are a shade of blue, no doubt, following orders from Westminster HQ, to not rock the boat. It all trickles down, the spiteful mis-management, the dysfunctional messages. But you can’t arse around with Mother Nature, she will always bite back if you ignore her.

    Happy New Year Ali, and all near, hold on to your life-jacket, 2016 will be dreadful.

  • Tim Dwelly

    Excellent post – sounds very similar to when we had huge storm damage in Cornwall two years ago and ‘money no object’ turned into delay and dither

    • Ehtch

      No wonder regions of England want self-determination too, to distance them from those Westminster Londonshire Thames Valley types. Scotland realises now that the cuts they did, though not as extreme as what Osborne caused, has given them cause for re-think too.

      Though Hollyrood have reacted well and quick to shore up that castle that was feet from falling into the Dee (which means Du in Brythonic, the Black, river), near, ironically, Balmoral Queen’s estate. And Charlie was upset that some of his sweet pea beds got washed away from his late grandmother’s project house and gardens too. Aww, precious!

  • Ehtch

    A horniest WINNERS poem for you Ali, to read. If ever you fancy a return to that alley from years ago, here is some thoughts of mine for you. You could do a book on trick-cycling of such sometime maybe?

    The Human Condition

    What is it?
    Becoming a nut?
    Or a slut?

    Holding back,
    your penis,
    denying you need it.

    Legs going east and west,
    or a slim bum to fit,
    with tapemeasures everywhere.

    Sub-conscious dreams,
    that you wish did not have,
    but then wishing you still do.

    Horses with cucumbers,
    oysters to suck,
    coming in twins.

    It is not our fault,
    it’s our evolution,
    the horniest wins.

    And vid I did, Lass from Glasgie. It’s OK, she’s online public, on a certain site, that is almost old enough to be my grandaugter, if I and etc. had kiddies at 17ish,

    • Ehtch

      Julie, sorry, Lass in a grumpy mood, the morning after, when she realises I do look old…

  • Ehtch

    My mate James has been at it again Ali, with his Trollstation platonic mate Amina (James is a happily married man!). Their breastfeeding spoof has gone viral on Facebook with 3million+ views, almost half a million on YouTube, and have appeared in the press all over the World, including the femail section of the Daily Mail, which is interesting, since they consider it the anti-christ of our media too Ali,

    Here is the vid on the underground, with James doing his best with acting to burst a blood vessel in rage – “They don’t do things like that back in Ireland”, says James in character.