Time to leave: British Labour grandee informs countryfolk
It is increasingly likely that by 2015 Britain will have a left-wing government with an undiminished appetite for people-harming experiments that are imposed in an arbitrary way. The flooding of Somerset is just the beginning
The Environment Agency belongs to an archipelago of agencies which are autonomous from the central state but still enjoy power over the lives of millions. It was a beneficiary of the profoundly unwise decision taken by a Tory Prime Minister, John Major, in the 1990s to reduce the civil service by creating a plethora of semi-state agencies. They soon proved to be even less accountable to citizens than the Whitehall-led state.
After 1997, they were quickly populated by Labour supporters. More often than not, these new policy overlords belonged to left-wing London think-tanks or had gained the attention of Tony Blair and his followers thanks to networking done at Oxbridge.
They usually had a theoretical and globalised outlook to problems that had previously been contained through a pragmatic approach. With few exceptions, they were also devotees of an environmental dogma which laid down that British citizens would need to make radical adjustments in their behaviour and find expenditure to keep at bay global warming.
Tony Blair’s most controversial foray into rural affairs was his government’s decision to ban fox-hunting. It showed how completely divorced from the countryside his party was.
Traditionally, fox-hunting (involving a certain amount of cruelty) had been a way of regulating the population of a species that could easily spiral out of control. Criminalising this pursuit occurred due to the pressure of urban left-wing activists. Blair later confessed that if he had known more about the issue, he would never have introduced the ban.
Much less noticed at the time was the decision to halt river drainage and management in the ecologically-sensitive Somerset Levels in the west of England.
Good farming and cohesive communities had been created in the 17th century by irrigating this land and reclaiming parts of it from the sea. Locals warned in vain about the disastrous consequences if centuries-old dredging of four rivers was discontinued.
Baroness (Barbara) Young, in charge of the Environment Agency after 2000, even stated: “I’d like to see a limpet mine placed on every pumping station”. She had expressed her impatience with state backing for managing farmland to support local communities.
Instead, her agency soon filled up with hundreds of officials in tune with the latest environmental concerns. Land should be returned to the wild, to swamp-like conditions to allow nature reserves to displace agriculture.
A winter of exceptional ferocity has taken its toll on all kinds of wild life as land has been covered by up to ten feet of water. Owen Paterson, the Environment Minister, has been struggling to assert the concerns of local inhabitants in the face of an agency keen to protect its own privileges and ideological agenda as this crisis has mounted.
Infighting is raging between the agency and media allies sharing its green agenda and local inhabitants who have far less powerful allies in the media and the political world.
Chris Smith, the Labour peer now in charge of the Environment Agency, made a declaration in the press on Monday which he must have known would enflame local feeling and alarm ruling Conservatives. He baldly stated that funding could simply not be spared to safeguard threatened rural areas like Somerset. The needs of urban ‘front rooms’ also needed to be balanced with those of rural Britain.
It is hard to imagine a Dutch politician of any political colour making such a statement about low-lying productive land or a senior American politician advocating back in 2003 that New Orleans should be left to the alligators and shrimps in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
But this type of callous social engineering is exactly typical of the Fabian intellectuals who increasingly call the shots amongst the British left. Eugenics was in fashion in the 1930s and now it is masterminding upheavals in the fabric of both urban and rural Britain to usher in a false utopia.
Not for a moment would Labour urge this government to scale back its overseas aid budget so as to extend a lifeline to vulnerable British communities.
Ed Miliband, the current party leader, is an archetypical Fabian who grew up in the North London world of parochial but profoundly arrogant people like HG Wells and the Bloomsbury set. For him, setting foot in a typical British pub, never mind donning a pair of wellingtons and spending a weekend among the folk of the Somerset Levels, is as unthinkable as going on a mission to outer space.
Too much has been invested in the green energy cult to easily step back even now that the EU is growing distinctly cool on an economy strategy based on privileging renewable energy.
It is increasingly likely that by 2015 Britain will have a left-wing government with an undiminished appetite for people-harming experiments that are imposed in an arbitrary way. The gerrymandering of the countryside in favour of inner city seats enhances this possibility.
The way that Labour acquires power is likely to increase the mood of bitterness in places like the Somerset Levels. Placid ways are likely to be discarded in favour of resistance to London measures that turn rural lives upside down.
So it should not be surprising if serious unrest flares up in parts of rural England of the kind that used to be the preserve of the continent or Ireland. Barricades and water cannon in the leafy bowers of England are simply no longer the stuff of a novelist’s over-ripe imagination.
Since 1997, Ed Miliband’s party has been determined to tear up a contract based on open dealing and restraint between the state and its citizens. As a politician far less equipped for high office than the over-rated Tony Blair was, should he reap the whirlwind, he will only have himself to blame.
Tom Gallagher is a regular contributor to The Commentator and Pofessor Emeritus in politics (Bradford Univesity)
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