The "Floods Crisis" has taken many weeks to build up into a political crisis, which finally happened around Monday morning last week (10 February), when the Thames Valley west of London began to flood on an scale not seen for generations.
Since then, the flooding has intensified. Large areas of the Somerset Levels have now either flooded completely, or cut off from the "mainland" a number of villages for weeks, as well as tens of square miles of prime agricultural land. And the flooding is predicted to get only worse, with the Severn Valley badly affected, as well as many other parts of Southern England. And that doesn't even mention the storms that have hammered coastal communities in recent weeks, tearing parts of the national infrastructure to pieces.
The strange irony for the government is that whereas before the New Year, the talk was of the political threat of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians flooding the country once they have the right to freely come to The UK. That threat never materialised; instead, we have a "natural flood" of historic proportions, flooding thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land, towns, villages and affluent suburbs, providing an entirely different sort of political crisis.
A damning indictment of "austerity"
An excellent piece by Jonathon Freedland pointed out how the cuts to the workforce of the Environment Agency (EA), as well as overall reductions in their budget, demonstrate how low down on their list of priorities the government takes the natural environment, in spite of all Cameron's earlier talk of the "greenest government ever".
With climate change making flooding an increasing problem for Britain, the only sensible action is to increase investment in flood protection, or actions that can at least mitigate their effects. If you can't move thousands of people off flood plains, then you have to provide adequate protection, like the Dutch have been doing for centuries.
The Floods Crisis has shown the intellectual poverty of "austerity". You may think you're saving money in the short term, but you will pay far, far more in the long-term if you don't defend yourself against future threats. In fact, the analogy may be taken to that of the armed forces. The government's attitude to the EA seems to be only to spend money on them when there is a crisis: equivalent in attitude to saying that armies are only useful in wartime, so why spend money on them in peace-time? It is this bone-headed reactive rather than proactive attitude to government that has helped to contribute to this crisis. And since the knee-jerk response of the government has been to "send in the army", we can also see how ill-equipped our armed forces are for genuine crises.
"Make do and mend" government
While the military on a personal level are doing only their very best, their civilian masters have spent the last four years doing them down, reducing their numbers and their budget to a minimum. The numbers of forces on the ground seem pitifully small compared to the crisis; the government talk of deploying a thousand here of there; where are the rest of them?
Again, like a hundred years ago at the start of the First World War, we see a situation that invites the "lions led by donkeys" comparison. This time, however, it is the Westminster bubble, and Cameron's circle of Eton-educated incompetents that are the "donkeys", leading their troops into floods without so much as a pair of Wellington boots. Worse, they send these ill-equipped (but well-meaning) troops to flood-hit areas without a clear plan, and too late. The main job the army has done is fill and lay down thousands of sand bags, often in areas already under three feet of water. It's not their fault that they're carrying out orders that appear utterly stupid and ineffective. But, as filling and laying down sand bags looks like something is being done, that seems to be the main thing.
Apart from "sand bag duty", do "the donkeys" in government have no other ideas for the army?
Like the incompetent elite that sleepwalked into war a hundred years ago, we have an Eton-educated elite that is sleepwalking Britain into a snowballing disaster from nature. And the reasons for their incompetence are the same now as they were then.
A damning indictment of Cameron's priorities
Cameron was finally pushed into doing something only after The Thames Valley flooded. Prince Charles went to the Somerset Levels more that a week ago, which had been flooded (and completely ignored by the government) for six weeks; only after Charles intervened did Cameron start to pay attention.
This also invites comparisons to the pitiful and ignorant response that George W Bush's government had to Hurricane Katrina; but in some ways, this is even worse, because the hypocrisy of Cameron's attitude was laid bare when he quickly jumped to attention once the wealthy homes of Tory heartland of The Thames Valley were flooding. And the hypocrisy of "austerity" was displayed when he announced that "money was no object". It is "austerity" for those outside of Cameron's range of thought (eg. the poor, those on benefits, those living in "the regions"), but "money is no object" for those close to his heart (the rich, and the Eton-educated elite).
This is another variation on the principle that has guided much of economics since the Financial Crisis: namely, "Corporate Socialism".
Lastly, Cameron's personal response to the floods has made his superficiality clear to see. His tours of affected areas have appeared like no more than photo opportunities. True, others have done the same, but his obvious insincerity as the national leader simply putting on a show of Churchillian "Dunkirk spirit" goes unequalled to his rivals. Ed Milliband's visit into the flooded Tory heartland was a PR disaster waiting to happen, but Cameron's "floods tour" simply looks like over-kill long after the crisis started.
Cameron talks about it being not the right time to start the blame game. No wonder: he knows who's really to blame. He had to intervene to quell in-fighting between his ministers over the right response to the floods, after his lack of leadership over his ministers turned into a farce involving Lord Smith last week.
Ultimately, the "Floods Crisis" is likely to be "Cameron's Katrina", and for good reason. Cameron's failings as a person and a leader have been adding up over the years he's been in office, and this national emergency has shown them as clear as day.