BRING some proper answers rather than soggy platitudes and damp excuses – that’s how yesterday’s blog ended. To no general surprise in waterlogged York, David Cameron offered both responses during his short visit to the city.
The following comment was doing the rounds on social media when the prime minister arrived in James Street to “look at some sandbags” – “No applause, no babies to be kissed, just a single voice from a lad in hi-vis asking: ‘Why’s he got f***ing wellies on for?’”
At least that last question was quickly answered. Cameron had donned rubber footwear so that he could be photographed talking to soldiers while standing in a flooded street. And you can’t get better than a quick-fit photo-op from a wally in wellies.
Tellingly, the prime minister was also wearing two other noticeable items: a face of constipated concern and a walking jacket bearing the brand label: “The North Face.”
It is perfectly possible that he grabbed this jacket as left Downing Street. But is it equally plausible to wonder. Had a ministerial minion been sent out to buy this jacket for the subliminal message it might convey?
As well as his concerned face, Cameron appeared in York with the words ‘North Face’ plainly on display. Perhaps he thought this might win over the locals with filthy river water coming up through their floorboards. Maybe he thought his north-facing coat would strike the right note of concern.
Now it might seem silly to dwell on the prime minister’s jacket, but if you follow the guarded rule that nothing in politics happens by accident, then this sartorial conspiracy theory has legs – and those legs were topped off by photo-op wellies.
Many headlines this morning summon up the north-south divide. The Independent suggests that “budget cuts intensified the impact of floods” above a report saying a senior official warned two months ago that cuts would lead to the scrapping of defences in Yorkshire.
The Daily Mirror, no friend to the prime minister, comes up with “Dam you, Cam” – adding that “crocodile tears from the PR PM” cannot hide his culpability for cuts in flood defence spending”.
The Telegraph offers a contrary view, suggesting it is time for a realistic debate on how much the country can afford to spend on flood defences and other vital infrastructure. Well, the answer to that surely lies in the adjective: if they’re ‘vital’ such projects are needed.
Attention in the nationals has also focused on what the northern papers have had to say, especially the newspapers in Leeds, where the floods hit just before the rivers rose to their highest point in York.
Under the banner headline “Indefensible”, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a front-page editorial which argued: “It remains the case that such events, like those witnessed in this city, are unthinkable in London and much of the south-east, where state-of-the-art flood defences have long been in place.”
Its sister paper, the Yorkshire Post, traditionally a Conservative-leaning newspaper, meanwhile said in its editorial: “The prime minister repeatedly used the word ‘unprecedented’ to describe this winter’s storms. Yet every fortnight brings ‘unprecedented’ levels of new flooding and the same pious platitudes from politicians, such as the environment secretary, Liz Truss, whose rhetoric is increasingly economical with the truth.”
Truss was at it again yesterday, stretching the truth bubble-gum-thin as she spouted statistics while standing on a wobbly raft of rhetoric.
What goes for Leeds goes for York too – and Manchester, and parts of West Yorkshire and Cumbia as well.
Last week the former Times editor Simon Jenkins made a telling point in his Guardian column when he said that “the latest figure for infrastructure spending on each Londoner is £5,500 a year, against Yorkshire’s £580 a head and the north-east’s £220.”
In other words, London gets what London wants and the rest of the country can whistle. All those oily promises from George Osborne about a northern powerhouse come to nothing if the basement is flooded and the power has been switched off.
As for York, the city will recover as it always does. Community spirit has surfaced once again. People will pull through in the end. But how many times will they have to suffer before something is done to stop this happening again; and how many times will they have to see a prime minister put on wellies so that he can mumble statistics while evading the truth about funding and cuts?
And will we ever again have to see Huntington Road turned into a flowing river and the centre of York flooded out in so many directions?
If you want answers to these questions, as the people of this city do, then you will have found little reassurance in what David Cameron had to say yesterday.