Monday, July 23, 2007

English Floods The Real Test For Brown

By Cernig

Thousands have been stranded and hundreds of thousands left without drinking water or power by massive floods across Central England and Wales over recent weeks. These floods, rather than recent incompetent terrorist activity, are set to be the first real test of the mettle of Britain's new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

The abortive and incompetent nature of the car bombs in London and Glasgow meant that they were no real crisis no matter how much conservative media hype in the US and UK tried to make them one. However, the current situation, which has gathered almost no pundit attention in the US, is a far sterner test for Brown's abilities. The entire swing-voter region of England is under threat of flooding, and how Brown reacts - his leadership ability, his ability to generate effective responses, his ability to remain calm and decisive - will determine public opinion in the run-up to the next general election. It is no hyperbole to say it is a mini-Katrina for Brown and that his star will fall fast if his government emulates the failures of Bush's administration.

The BBC is probably the best place to get an overview of the extent of the crisis.
The flooding crisis in central and western England continues with thousands of homes losing water and electricity supplies.
Up to 350,000 people in Gloucestershire will be left without running water by Monday evening, as the Severn and Thames rivers threaten to overflow.

The Environment Agency said water levels on both rivers had exceeded those of devastating floods in 1947.

...Severe flood warnings are in place for the Midlands, Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire. At their height, some rivers will be more than 20ft higher than normal. Environment Agency spokesman Anthony Perry said: "We have not seen flooding of this magnitude before. The benchmark was 1947 and this has already exceeded it."

...The Environment Agency has issued eight severe flood warnings and says the situation is "critical". There are four in the Midlands for the River Avon and River Severn between Worcester, Tewkesbury and Gloucester.

Three severe flood warnings are in place for Oxfordshire, from Eynsham to Abingdon, and one has been issued for the River Great Ouse from Turvey to Sharnbrook in Bedfordshire.
At one stage, thousands were trapped by rising water on the main M5 motorway near Birmingham, the UK's second largest city. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed by water which is up to six feet deep. Both of Britain's largest rivers, the Thames and Severn, are in danger of bursting their banks in several places. Some areas have seen a month's rainfall in one day and there's more rain still to come.

So how is Brown doing? Well, it's a mixed bag to be honest. He's come under a lot of criticism for the inability of what in many cases is Victorian infrastructure to cope with the rain. Spending should have been greater and better targeted, many say. Brown has to bear some blame for this - he's been in charge of Britain's purse strings for a very long time now - but also can point to decades long neglect all the way back to the Thatcher years and even beyond. The military and emergency services have done great work in the biggest civil rescue operation mounted in the UK since WW2 - but could have done even better if the military wasn't overstretched by commitement to Bush's adventure in Iraq. He's ordered a review into the response to the flooding and a 25% rise in spending on flood and coastal defenses - but that's after the horse has bolted and it seems true that his government could have been more ready if they had heeded weather experts warnings in the earliest stages of the flooding.

It's unclear as yet where public opinion will settle, but Brown's definitely learned from Bush's disaster. His government has been quick to say that the lessons needed will be learned and applied and has the support of the Conservative party in not playing a blame game (for now).
Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said the floods were "not the government's fault" and "we are not interested in playing a blame game".

"They are a humbling reminder of the awesome power of nature.

"What matters is to be quite certain that everything feasible that could be done to respond both to the threat of the flooding and to the flooding events themselves was done, is being done and will continue to be done," he told MPs.
It also looks very like the floods will give new popular impetus to Brown's stance on global warming, as many experts are saying this kind of rainfall could become far more common in the UK.
"For the first time, climate scientists have clearly detected the human fingerprint on changing global precipitation patterns over the past century," researchers from Environment Canada said in a statement.

The scientists, writing in the journal Nature, found humans contributed significantly to these changes, which include more rain and snow in northern regions that include Canada, Russia and Europe, drier conditions in the northern tropics and more rainfall in the southern tropics.

So-called anthropogenic climate change has had a "detectable influence" on changes in average precipitation in these areas, and it cannot be explained by normal climate variations, they wrote.

Weather experts in Britain raised the possibility that the current rains there may be related to climate change.

"The global climate models indicate a future for the UK with drier summers and wetter winters, but storm events in the summer are predicted to be more frequent and more intense," David Butler of the University of Exeter said in a statement. "So it may well be the case that we will have to learn to live with more flooding.

Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in Britain, said, "Extreme events such as we have seen in recent weeks herald the spectre of climate change and it would be irresponsible to imagine that they won't become more frequent."
If the flooding now wins Middle England over to Brown's policies on climate change, then he'll certainly come out as having been far-sighted and any failures in response to the current floods can then be blamed on naysayers and past government's short-sightedness. For now, even the extreme-right Daily Telegraph is giving Brown a pass. he appears to have weathered his first real crisis well.

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