Monday, July 23, 2007
New Labour's Hurricane Katrina
This article of mine appears in today's First Post.
People whose homes have been damaged by the recent floods are entitled to ask where the British government's priorities actually lie.
Earlier this year, the Met Office and risk planners in Whitehall warned ministers that due to the so-called El Nino effect, this summer would be much wetter than usual, and there would be a serious risk of flooding. What did the government do? They cut back on spending at the agency which deals with flood prevention.
A month ago, a report by the National Audit Office found that 63 per cent of Britain's flood defences were not properly maintained, while in more than half of high-risk areas there was no guarantee that the defences would hold back rising waters. But while the government hasn't got money to properly protect Britain's towns and cities from floods, it can afford to pursue a costly 'interventionist' foreign policy.
The situation is remarkably similar to that in America when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in August 2005.
Prior to the disaster, swingeing federal budget cuts had all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, for the first time in 37 years. "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," complained emergency management chief Walter Maestri.
Hurricane Katrina was the moment when US public opinion turned decisively against the neo-conservative policies of the Bush administration, policies which put fighting 'pre-emptive' wars abroad ahead of the safety of people at home.
Gordon Brown needs to act quickly if the floods in Britain are not to turn the public against him and his government, just as Katrina effectively blew away George Bush's authority.