Flooding from Storm Ciara in Lancashire, February 2020. Photo: Stephen Melling via Flickr Flooding from Storm Ciara in Lancashire, February 2020. Photo: Stephen Melling via Flickr

Outrage at government inaction is growing in the country’s flood-hit areas, reports John Westmoreland

A wave of anger is crashing around Boris Johnson and his government. Britain is facing the worst flooding crisis in a decade.

This weekend, with the country lashed by another storm, Boris Johnson’s failure to meet the crisis is becoming even clearer. The crisis has already seen over 1400 homes hit by flooding, and currently presents a danger to life.

Johnson’s bluster and buffoonery will not help him now.

In flood areas, he is increasingly seen as incompetent and irresponsible. A taste of the anti-Johnson anger was felt by journalists visiting Pontypridd this week where over 600 people have been forced from their homes by flooding.

Robin Williams, 62, spoke for many residents, calling out Johnson for his lack of interest in their plight. Robin demanded to know, “Where’s Boris? Where’s the help?”

Jeremy Corbyn made the effort to visit the area, talking to flood victims and giving vent to their anger against the Tories. The flooding crisis has revealed Johnson’s true character:

‘In refusing to visit flood-hit communities, nowhere-to-be-seen Boris Johnson is showing his true colours by his absence. If the prime minister is not campaigning for votes in a general election, he simply does not care about helping communities affected by flooding.’

One-nation Conservatism exposed

Johnson’s claim that he intends to unite the country after Brexit is laughable. The government has this week been exposed for its reliance on a cabal of ‘misfits and weirdos’ pulling the strings in Number 10; has faced demonstrations against racist deportations and immigration policy; and seen strikes at major universities. Tory MPs are clearly worried about Johnson’s mishandling of the flood crisis too.

Philip Davies, the right-wing Tory MP for Shipley and Boris Johnson ally told the Telegraph,

It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough time to do something. What has been done to stop it happening again? Precious little.’

When Johnson informed the media that flooding in Wales is a ‘devolved issue’ and that the Welsh government would have to sort out it only compounded his difficulties.

The only way Johnson can maintain the illusion of himself as a strong leader is to go to ground and leave his hapless Environment Minister, George Eustice, to say that the government has “a firm grip” on the situation. Eustice’s claim that more homes would have been devastated were it not for the Tories investment in flood defences has only stoked more resentment.

For many the reality of Tory rule is exposed. The Tories have not abandoned austerity as they promised, and cash-starved councils and emergency services simply cannot cope with the current unprecedented levels of flooding.

Clearly Johnson and the Tories are vulnerable. However, there is much more at stake than Johnson’s reputation.

Climate change: a threat to human existence

The popular demand to wed economic policy to environmental and social justice seems completely beyond the Tories, who gloat about cutting taxes for billionaires and leaving our future to the markets. And now a leaked report from the investment banking company JP Morgan has confirmed our worst fears.

Despite JP Morgan’s own investments in fossil fuels between 2016 and 2018 amounting to £1.47 trillion they tell their investors that a rapid change of direction is needed.

‘We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,’ the report states. It goes on to argue that governments need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy ‘would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years’, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

And that charge of business-as-usual government fits Johnson perfectly.

Campaigning for real change

With the stakes so high we cannot allow Johnson’s criminal irresponsibility to remain at the level of parliamentary political criticism.

We need urgent action to reverse climate change, and that means every Tory policy and trade deal has to be scrutinised as to their environmental outcomes.

It also means using the climate crisis to demand a complete reversal of austerity. We need meaningful investment in flood defences, emergency accommodation for flood victims and the money to repair flood damaged homes. We need economic and social infrastructure paid for by taxing the rich.

Leaving everything to the markets, the centrepiece of economic Tory policy, will mean disaster for areas liable to flooding. The insurance companies are ramping up their prices and the lack of social and emergency housing means that unless flood victims can get the cash, their lives are ruined.

The government needs to accept the liability caused by flooding and come up with the money to give adequate provision to councils and emergency services.

That means putting people before profits, and we can’t wait for the next election to achieve it.

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.